The line-up at this year’s Glasgow Frightfest was an odd one, to say the least. Some films that I had been massively looking forward to wound up being hugely disappointing, while others that I had approached with cautious optimism wound up blowing me away.
Crawl rests firmly in the latter camp.
One of my top three “films of the fest”, Crawl blew me away with its heady mix of humour and suspenseful tension.
I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with the writer/director Paul China, who had flown in with his brother Ben especially for the event, to talk a little bit about the film.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank both China brothers for taking the time to talk to me and acquiescing to my requests since. Ahem.
AndyErupts: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into film-making?
Paul China: I have been obsessed with film for as long as I can remember. As children, my brother Benjamin and I would spend our weekends at my grandfather’s house watching whatever we could find on VHS – mostly westerns, noirs and horrors. We both then studied film at University, and shortly after I got work as a film critic in Australia. My screenplays started to generate some interest in the industry, so Ben and I formed our own production company and started the lengthy and laborious process of getting a feature off the ground.
AE: Obviously, we just saw Crawl and I, personally, thought that it was brilliant. For the benefit of those who haven’t seen it, can you tell us a bit about the film?
PC: The film is a suspense-thriller and it is our first feature. The plot centres on a seedy bar owner who hires a mysterious Croatian to commit murder, but a planned double-crossing backfires when a young waitress is taken hostage. A suspenseful, yet darkly humorous chain of events builds to a bloodcurdling climax.
AE: How did the idea for Crawl come about?
PC: We had originally planned to shoot another one of our scripts, Howl, but sadly, finance fell through at the last minute and the project never came to fruition. That film was set in East Texas, and we were going to film in Canada. We then decided to shoot a film on a lower budget in Australia, where we were based, after my brother raised some capitol. I then reworked the Howl script into something more dark, thrilling and suspenseful.
AE: Was it always your intention to make a film that was much more tense and laden with suspense than, say, an all out bloodbath?
PC: Absolutely. It was our intention from the get-go. We wanted to create something that was both entertaining and intelligent. We weren’t interested in making a low-budget horror film like many other first time filmmakers. Our desire was to film a well paced, well framed and beautifully shot story – something entirely cinematic and professional.
AE: The cast are absolutely fantastic. How did you go about finding those guys?
PC: The role of “The Stranger” was actually written for the actor we cast, George Shevtsov – we had seen him audition for another film we were trying to get off the ground some years back. He has such incredible screen presence and charisma, like a silent actor. He hardly has any dialogue in the film, yet his physical gestures and distinct facial features are simply captivating. I could quite easily watch him read a book. He’s mesmerizing.
We had actually seen Georgina Haig audition a few years ago too, so we always had her in mind for the role of Marilyn Burns, the film’s protagonist. Like George, she is on screen much of the time by herself, and without any dialogue – an enormous challenge for any actor. If the audience did not invest in her, then the film would have failed. Thankfully, Georgina had the talent, beauty and insight to not only bring Marilyn to life, but to make the audience care and root for her.
AE: The soundtrack is excellent. Can you offer us some thoughts on that?
PC: Well, we had a wonderful composer, Christopher Gordon, work on the film. I like to think he is one of Australia’s best. He has worked on such reputable films as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Daybreakers and Mao’s Last Dancer and so we were very excited to have him on board. He really understood the film and what we were trying to achieve, and we worked extensively on leaving certain scenes scoreless — hearing only the diegetic sounds in a scene can really enhance the tension and brooding suspense.
AE: I have a brother. We bicker like crazy. How was it working with your brother, Ben? Were there ever any arguments?
PC: We have a great partnership. He produces, and I write and direct. We never argue and see eye to eye on almost everything. We’re lucky that way.
AE: The film has played to positive reviews at festivals around the world. That must be flattering for your first feature?
PC: It has been very flattering. Practically every review so far has been overwhelmingly positive. It is a fantastic feeling – perhaps having been a critic myself – to know the media and press are really supporting and loving the film.
AE: What are your thoughts on the screening in Glasgow and Glasgow in general?
PC: The screening at Glasgow, as a part of FrightFest, was our UK premiere and we were very happy with the response. We sold out as well and the only other film to have done so was The Raid, which was a tremendous accomplishment, and the feedback we received was wonderful. The audience in Glasgow really got the humour in the film as well, so it was great to hear that laughter fill the room.
AE: Australia has produced some great horror films recently. Wolf Creek, the sequel to which is gearing up for production, and The Loved Ones, among them, and to a lesser extent films like Snowtown. Would you say that there is a strong horror community in Australia and is there anything you would like to see from Australian horror filmmakers in the future?
PC: I would say there is a strong horror community in Australia. The country has produced some fine examples of the genre in the past, and modern filmmakers still seem keen and enthused to explore and tackle the realms of horror. From what I have seen on the festival circuit so far, there seems to be a strong, independent horror community from most countries – be it Italy, France, the UK, or the U.S. It is a genre that will always thrive.
AE: Who are your major influences, with regards to horror?
PC: In terms of filmmakers, I would have to say Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. They are masters of suspense. Psycho, Rear Window, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby are films that have certainly been influential on my approach to the genre.
AE: What’s next for you?
PC: Next for us is a bigger project. It’s a dramatic thriller set in the U.S. and hopefully we’ll be shooting that one in the States sometime soon.