Paramount’s Crawl is eerily good.

Under the direction of Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) and with a screenplay written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, Crawl is an on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller anchored by a strong storyline with a powerful father-daughter relationship dynamic tying the plot together. What sets Aja’s Crawl apart from typical horror/thriller films is that the dynamic between Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) and Dave Keller (Barry Pepper) is equally as engaging as the graphic and gory alligator scenes.

When a massive hurricane hits a small Florida town, Haley, a University of Florida college student and excellent athletic swimmer on her university’s swim team, ignore evacuation orders to search for her missing father Dave. Finding him gravely injured in the crawl space of their family home, the two become trapped by quickly rising flood waters. As time runs out to escape the strengthening storm, Haley and her father discover that the rising water level in the crawl space is the least of their fears — alligators are lurking as well.

BGN recently had the opportunity to talk with director Alexandre Aja as well as the two leads of the film, Scodelario, and Pepper. The trio discussed their inspiration for taking on the project as well, how they prepared for shooting, and how working on this film has changed their perspectives on nature and alligators.

What was the inspiration for this project?

Aja: I started the project with the desire to go back to making a film that was scarier and straightforward. It was a guilty pleasure of mine, and it was very fun. I wanted to do something more like The Hills Have Eyes — something more visceral that would give me the opportunity to build something similar to that. When I got the script, I was not necessarily looking for an aquatic beast type film, but I fell in love with the logline. It was just the most simple, straightforward, efficient thing in the crossroads of everything I have ever done before.

The father-daughter dynamic between Haley and Dave Keller is equally as engaging as the alligator scenes. How did you find that balance between the strong level of compassion that they displayed on screen with the more extremely graphic and gory scenes?

Aja: The most challenging part was to find the balance between the drama and the survival. And I was split, because a part of me wanted to see a lot of gator action and survival, and the other part of me wanted to see a balance between the two elements. I wanted the relationship to be the center of the story.

Kaya, I’m curious about your exercise regime in preparation for this film. Are you a swimmer?

Scodelario: No, not at all. I was a sunbather and only dipped in to cool down. I had zero exercise [discipline] when we first got the script. When I booked the job, I was very unhealthy. I had just had a kid [now a two-year-old] and was enjoying being able to eat cheese again and just living my best life. Then, this came along. I thought, “Oh, shit, I need to fix up.” I went to the wonderful trainer George Ashwell. He’s really helped me get my core strength up. I’d never felt strong before, and I really wanted to. It’s why I wanted to do this part. I wanted to feel lean and strong. I had a swim coach in London, who was a former Olympian. I did an hour in the pool every day. I did that for about seven weeks. [My character] is an athlete, and I wanted to look like one. It was extremely tough and grueling. I had to put aside a lot of things.

How did your experience as a parent influence your portrayal of Haley?

Scodelario: That’s what the heart of it is — the fighting for survival virtue. They know each other better than anyone else in the world. And there are moments where they hate each other and they’re fighting and they’re angry, but that will come from love and the emotion of them. Yes, [my character] is an athlete and she’s been trained for this, but if it wasn’t her father or someone that she loved that much, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she did. I think like a mother. I believe the whole “parent being able to lift the car up from off of their child” thing. You tap into this other side of yourself. I think that’s why she’s such a survivalist.

Barry, your father-daughter scenes were so intuitive and nuanced. We were right there in the thick of it with you. What about your own personal experiences brought you to the script?

Pepper: Thank you for saying that. The final edit of the film has less of the relationship dynamic than what was originally in the script, just because I think the fan base of thriller/horror films want that fast, tight, exciting film. Geographically, in the crawl space, they didn’t know where the gators were. There was a constant threat on the father and daughter, Dave and Haley, so the focus and intensity was there. When I first read the script, that’s what really hooked me, because of my relationship with my daughter. I could also just identify with them as a family.

You know, there’s this blue-collar American family in a Category 5 hurricane. Every year it seems like we’re hearing about the devastating costs of weather from Florida to Texas. People are losing their homes and all their possessions. So, that part of it really anchored the film for me — and the relationship of father and daughter, estranged by divorce and trying to reconcile and heal wounds.

At this stage in his life, Dave has so little faith in himself but unyielding faith in his daughter. Why do you think that is?

Pepper: From the perspective of Dave, he feels like he’s failed his family. He feels guilty that he didn’t pay enough attention to his wife. That is his biggest regret — letting her get away. I think he’s pretty broken physically and emotionally when you meet him. It’s really his daughter who galvanizes him at the beginning of the film, and he has to pick her up at certain points in the film. I think it’s because he sees no quit in her.

Do you feel differently about alligators having made this movie?

Pepper: In researching for the film, I saw a few documentaries that just blew me away — their intelligence, and how they hunt. I saw one cruising along the swamp with a stick on its snout, and the alligator is just barely submerged in the water. Its snout and maybe his eyes were just above the water, but the stick was on the surface. This huge white bird flew down to pick up the stick for its nest, and the gator got him. I just thought that was brilliant. I think they’re the closest cousins to the dinosaur, and I really find them fascinating.

Crawl premiered nationwide on July 12, 2019.