If you don’t know what type of film Piranha 3D is simply based on the title, then there’s no helping you. It’s interested in a few things and doing those things extremely well: being over-the-top, fun, and bloody in all senses of the word. The kills Alexandre Aja puts on-screen makes its R-rating seen mind boggling. Aja doesn’t pull his punches (similar to his previous films), but here the difference is in going more for pure fun rather than bleak horror. This is no soft R. It pushes the envelope.
Aja knows exactly what type of film he made. He was interested from the beginning in telling a comedic horror satire in the vein of the films he grew up on as a teen. Aja labels it as a “guilty pleasure” film, which many will agree with, but it’s something I question him on since one shouldn’t feel at all guilty for enjoying the epic bloodbath Aja has released. This is as self-aware as films get. And while there is a political subtext similar to Aja’s previous film, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D is still all about having fun.
Here’s what Alexandre Aja had to say. Beware a few spoilers.
The film has been really well received so far. Were you at all surprised by the reviews?
You know, my attitude towards critics usually is that I want to be sure that they think there are are super good ones and super bad ones (laughs). I mean, I want to be sure that the response is never warm or in-between. The most important thing when you do a movie is that you find an audience that really understands what you want to do and is really supportive of it. Of course if you find someone that saw what you did and understood it, you’ll always find someone that appreciates it. I was surprised to see such a great attitude and feedback [towards the film].
I’m really happy because a week ago I had a very tough conversation with the studio with Bob and Harvey Weinstein, which was about refusing to show the movie to press. I said, “Guys, we just finished it. We need to show the movie, because people will get it. People will get we went for a silly, guilty pleasure ride,” and they were so scared. Finally, they accepted to show the movie to a couple of people. Now they were realizing what they weren’t expecting. You know, a lot of critics are really excited about the movie and have a great time watching it. They understood the tone of it and what we wanted to do. The studio wanted to present the movie as a straight type of serious movie, which is not the case. We are not remaking Jaws. We are like today’s Jaws Gone Wild (laughs). I’m very happy with all the amazing reviews.
You just mentioned how each time around you want a different response, do you consider this different from your previous films?
Oh, yeah. It’s very different, but I knew it was different and that’s the reason why I wanted to do it. I love the genre, but I’m always scared of doing the same movie again and again. When you do a slasher film you find yourself repeating the same kind of scene. Then it becomes not very challenging and not very interesting. So I think so far I’ve done very different things. The Hills Have Eyes is very different than High Tension, which is very different from Mirrors. Piranha in the shape of it and everything is from another galaxy. It’s fun, it’s not serious, and it’s spring break under attack.
Would you say this is your most commercial film, as well? There’s a lot of violence, but tonally, it’s not brutal and is more openly fun.
Yeah, that’s what I was trying to explain. Everyone is talking about the 100,000 gallons of blood in the movie, and yes, we might’ve used more blood than any other movie before. But we didn’t do it in a brutal way. I think the violence in The Hills Have Eyes and High Tension is much more traumatic than Piranha. Piranha is much more for a wider audience potential. I really wanted have Dimension tell that to the people. It’s very violent, but it’s always funny and always made with a dark humor and a satirical attitude. It’s something that you don’t have in usual movies. I loved Zombieland last year, and I thought it was such a funny movie. And I thought we were doing the right thing with Piranha and that we were going in the same direction.
You’ve been labeling this as a “guilty pleasure” movie, but what do you think makes a film a guilty pleasure?
You know, growing up in the eighties you could go from one style in a movie to another style, and that was okay. In the nineties you had to obey your niche. You had to follow the code and never step outside of exactly what you’re doing. If you do a slasher movie, you need to make it serious and scary. You cannot have humor and you can’t have different styles. That was something that was really fun in the eighties. What I really tried to do with Piranha was I tried to navigate between the horror, the comedy, to the action and adventure, and just get the audience with me on that roller coaster and just go through the ride of a spring break attack.
Don’t you think there’s some kind of wrong about the term “guilty pleasure”? Why should you feel bad for enjoying something, especially a film that’s actually well done?
Yeah, I see what you mean. A guilty pleasure is something that’s like, a direct-to-video film or just a really B-movie. But I see what you’re saying. The term guilty pleasure is more for me as a filmmaker, and not the audience. After Mirrors I could’ve gone for something more action driven and serious, but I had to do this movie. I had to make that ode to my teenage years where we were watching movies and cheering whenever we saw a topless girl. I needed to go to that direction one more time. The guilty pleasure is more from my side, and I’m really happy. It’s fun because usually watching a movie three hundred times I get a bit bored, but this one I really had a lot of pleasure with re-watching it. It was like looking at a picture from a great party.
What made you finally wanna go in that direction now after Mirrors?