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The director of Crawl answers our most serious Florida question

Alexandre Aja explains how he made a hyper-real movie in the country’s weirdest state

an alligator in Crawl Paramount Pictures

Crawl, the upcoming disaster horror movie from director Alexandre Aja, takes place in the land of hurricanes, chaotic police reports, and alligators: my home state of Florida.

Of all the areas of the United States where the American alligator roams — an impressive habitat range that includes Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, South and North Carolina, and Georgia — Aja, who directed 2010’s creature-feature Piranhas 3D and dark fantasy Horns, always intended to set the animal-attack thriller in Florida, where he could bring a certain sense of reality to the movie.

“The script came with this very simple logline about this young woman who was trying to save her dad during a category five hurricane in Florida, in a flooded zone infested with alligators. I thought it was just the most obvious thing — like my name written all over it,” Aja told Polygon in a recent call. “I just fell in love with that logline.”

Keeping things real — or rather “hyper-real” as Aja described it — was important to the director, who didn’t want to create a fantasy alligator, but rather one rooted in nature.

“I didn’t want to make a monster movie with giant alligators that are radioactive or have an agenda of revenge or anything. We wanted to make them the way that they are. I started watching all the footage you could find on the internet and narrowing down the most visceral scary one,” he recounted “There is this one alligator that lives near Miami. His name is Godzilla. He’s an amazing specimen. Very strong, always up on his legs. He was a wonderful reference.”

Crawl has strong Florida energy. When the first trailer came out, I was intrigued, but found a glaring logical fallacy. Namely, the majority of the movie seems to take place in the basement of a Florida home. And Florida homes, for the most part, do not have basements.

Non-Floridians might be surprised to learn about the absence of basements in the great state. While some areas of North Florida do have basements, most of the state sits directly on sea level, making basements pretty impractical. If you built a basement under most Florida houses, you’d hit the Floridian aquifer, my fourth-grade science teacher told the class, the underground storage of fresh water that supplies irrigation and drinking water to the state.

The fact that a basement was featured so prominently in the Crawl trailers didn’t just befuddle me; other Floridians took to the internet, crying out about proper basement representation.

Aja, however, would like to clarify that it is not a basement featured in Crawl, but rather a crawl space. Which, given the movie’s title, makes sense.

“We looked into a lot of houses in Florida and there are indeed a lot of crawl spaces. Most of the crawl spaces are usually not higher than two to three feet,” he said.

Smaller, submerged crawl spaces — defined as an area of limited height under a floor or roof — can be found in Florida. But what about Crawl’s Florida? The movie’s fictional setting of Coral Lake, which is said to be about two hours southwest on I-75 from the University of Florida in Gainesville (my alma mater), is likely a bit south of Tampa, Florida. Quick research indicates that houses in the Tampa area can indeed have crawl spaces, judging by the numerous “Crawl Space Repair” services that populate Google. But like Aja said, most of the crawl spaces in the Tampa area appear to be about three-feet tall.

The one featured in the movie seems to be a bit taller, enough so that the movie’s 5’6” lead actress Kaya Scodelario can comfortably crouch and not bump her head.

“A lot of people now are digging the crawl space to double the space,” explained Aja. “It’s very common to dig your crawl space. So we went up to like four or five feet. But it’s not a basement. We did research. We found this house that had a deeper crawl space.”

Are there many houses in southwestern Florida with four- to five-foot crawl spaces? Probably not. Are there giant alligators on the prowl during hurricanes? Also not likely. It’s all part of that hyper-real tone and hey, if we can buy the hyperbolic alligators, maybe we can buy the hyperbolic crawl space.

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