When a psychopath starts swinging a pickax, Maxime Alexandre knows what to do: Head for the blade. The 35-year-old cinematographer has a taste for point-blank horror, often delivering orgies of carnage shot at such close range that the violence feels intimate, almost claustrophobic.
In “The Hills Have Eyes,” the Belgian-born Alexandre zeroed in on a killer’s ax playfully tousling a victim’s hair; in the same scene, he jumped onto the floor to catch the weapon smashing down, thrusting his wide lens — and himself — within a foot of the swinging blade.
When characters hide, Alexandre tends to put his camera right in their nose: They have nowhere to go in the cinematographer’s tight framing, and neither does the audience. Even sweeping shots of the desert in “Hills” somehow infuse the vast terrain with the sense of being one large mousetrap.
“The claustrophobia is so important,” says Alexandre, who tries to make himself invisible on the set, listening to music as he becomes absorbed in the characters’ movements and mindsets. “I’m trying to get as close as I can to the actor, as close as possible without distracting them.”
Sometimes actors give him funny looks. Other times, his empathetic camera style lands him in tight spots. Once while shooting the saliva shooting out of the mouth of a pit bull fighting another pit bull, he got so close that one of the dogs gripped his head and ripped off some of his hair.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” says Alexandre, who lives in Venice, Italy. “But the shot is amazing.”
On the set, Alexandre strives to give actors and directors flexibility. In the frenetic horror of “High Tension,” directed by frequent collaborator Alexandre Aja, that means lighting and shooting in a way to produce “360-degree freedom of movement.”
Alexandre also plays with techniques and style. In “High Tension,” he shot victims with handheld cameras to capture their chaotic flight, but followed a mono-focused, icy-cold psychopath chasing them with a dolly to convey his precise, almost graceful motion. At crucial moments, he ratchets up suspense with fast motion.
But, even when filming unspeakable acts, Alexandre, whose family works in the film industry and who grew up playing on movie sets in Europe, says he always strives for a “delicate and simple photography.”
Favorite tool: Arricam
Preferred film stock: Kodak
Inspirations: Tonino Delli Colli and Darius Khondji
What’s next: “Mirrors,” another outing with Alexandre Aja
Reps: Pete Franciosa and Wayne Fitterman at UTA
Web site: maxime-alexandre.com