Ben (left) and Paul (right) China
Paul and Benjamin China are the masterminds behind Crawl, a blackly comic Australian thriller about a hitman, a damsel in a distress and the cake they left on the doorstep. As the brothers visited England to promote their film, I was lucky enough to speak with them both.
JOEL HARLEY: Hello! How are you both?
PAUL CHINA: We're good. Just trying to survive the cold. We've only been in town for a week, so we're still acclimatised to the Australian weather. We're shivering over here.
JH: What can you tell us about Crawl?
PC: Hopefully they can expect to be entertained, really. What we've made is a suspense thriller. It's almost a throwback to films from the sixties and seventies, similar to early Polanski and Hitchcock. A lot of filmmakers make their first movie – they go out and make a horror film or a schlock horror, because there's a huge market. We avoided that approach. We aimed to make a thriller that focused on character development as well as black humour.
JH: How did the idea for the movie come about?
PC: We actually originally had another idea. It was an American film that we were going to shoot in Canada, but sadly, like most independent filmmaking the plan fell through. So we took that story and re-wrote it to a more simple premise – one location and minimal characters, and told it in the Australian outback.
JH: Benjamin, how did you come to be involved as producer?
BENJAMIN CHINA: Paul and I, we've always wanted to work together, even at a young age. We've always been fascinated with film and filmmaking, so we set off down that path. This is our first film so Paul and I produced and wrote it together eventually. We just took that long, laborious task of making our first film together.
JH: How hands on were you in the movie's creation?
BC: Because we were filling both of those roles, we decided to have Paul be credited as the director and myself as the producer. We were pretty much running around doing everything together. We oversaw what we were always doing and were pretty much always together during production.
JH: Did you have any disagreements?
BC: No, we didn't actually. We actually worked pretty well together. And if we did have any disagreements, I was always right at the end of the day.
JH: The movie's cast did a great job. How did you find them?
PC: We found George and Georgina Haig – they actually auditioned for another movie with us that we were trying to get off the ground a few years earlier over in Perth. We remembered them from their auditions then. When we wrote the screenplay, we always had George in mind for the role of The Stranger. If he had passed on the role, I don't know what we would have done. There's three lead characters here, and because the film relies heavily on silence and the characters that are onscreen by themselves for long periods of time, we really needed three captivating actors. Because if you're not invested in them, the film would ultimately fail.
JH: The Stranger is a great villain. What was the inspiration for him?
PC: The inspiration was, we wanted him to be odd. At the same time as being frightening in certain scenarios, we wanted him to be quite humorous and odd. It's only as the film progresses that we start to reveal more insight into his personality – his taste in the car, his drug habit. We always envisioned him being dressed in a particular way – we always wanted him to be some sort of foreign entity in this very Australian setting. We feel that George did a fantastic job and we're really pleased with the casting.
JH: I noticed that the main character's name is Marilyn Burns. How much of an influence were movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre?
BC: We are fans actually. We haven't seen this film in a long period of time, simply because we found it so frightening. It's a shame that some horror gets overlooked or is seen as naff and clichéd. In fact, there are some great horror films, whether it's Psycho, Jaws, Rosemary's Baby and of course, Texas Chain Saw Massacre. That film was influential to a certain extent, but we also wanted to have a wry nod to great horror films of the 1970s, using the name Marilyn Burns.
JH: What other influences did you have?
PC: I'd say that early works from Roman Polanski were definitely an influence - particularly Repulsion and The Tenant. The works of Hitchcock were as well. When Hitchcock had Psycho, he had that one word title, the blonde heroine, and the film was shot primarily in one location. And Polanski was influenced by that when he made Repulsion. He did the exact same thing. We wanted to make our own unique tale using those guidelines.
JH: How do you feel about being likened to the Coen Brothers? The film reminded me of their early crime thrillers.
PC: We're big fans of their work. Blood Simple was an influence in Crawl. I suppose it's quite easy to jump to that comparison – we're brothers, our name begins with 'C'. We're always going to draw some sort of comparison from that.
JH: Australian cinema is producing some great horror at the moment. What do you think it is about Australian horror that's proving so popular?
PC: It's strange, that. Maybe it's because Australian films – independent films - do struggle a little, but there seems to be a really good band of young filmmakers emerging over there. And horror is seen as the first genre that a lot of filmmakers tackle because it's easy to attract, rather than getting an A-list actor in your film – when you're starting off that's very difficult, or in terms of getting the right financiers. Horror is sometimes perceived as being the easiest route. But having said that, there have been some great thrillers and horror films come out of Australia. Maybe the locations and the settings have something to do with it as well, because it's quite foreign and intriguing, really.
JH: What are you up to next?
PC: We're working on a film that's a dramatic thriller. And it's set in Virginia in the United States. We're currently working on that at the moment. If everything goes according to plan, we're looking on shooting that the second half of this year.
JH: What are your career ambitions? Do you hope to keep making horror?
BC: Not really. We're drawn to character driven dramatic storytelling, and tackling a wide range of genres. So hopefully we'll keep making movies and keep growing, really.
JH: Do you see yourselves always working together?
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