One of the things I appreciated about Crawl is the way it introduces its monstrous alligators. There is no slow build-up, no dropping of hints about their presence, no mysterious gator-POV shots to alert us, as pretty much every revenge-of-nature monster movie has done since at least Jaws (1975). Of course, we know the alligators are there, and we know they are going to show up at some point because, after all, if you're watching the movie you're doing so because you want to watch a movie about people being terrorized and eaten by enormous alligators during a hurricane. So, when the first alligator (of many) suddenly and violently crashes into view at a genuinely unexpected moment with no real build-up whatsoever, it comes as a delightful B-movie surprise-the kind that doesn't feel cheap, but rather giddy in its silly-delirious enjoyment of goosing an audience itching to be goosed.
Crawl is not quite a masterpiece of B-movie thrills, but it is a very good one-simple, direct, and efficient in what it's doing. The set-up is this: a collegiate swimmer named Haley (Kaya Scodelario) drives into the middle of an approaching hurricane along the Florida coastline to check on her estranged father, Dave (Barry Pepper), who has recently been divorced by her mother and isn't answering his phone. Haley's older sister, Beth (Morfydd Clark), who is married and living in Boston, is concerned, as is Haley, although she and Dave have recently had a fight and haven't spoken in weeks. There are hints that Haley is angry about his divorce and other things, as well; she is an intense and extremely competitive person (note the look she gives the teammate to whom she loses in the opening swim practice scene), so it's not hard to imagine that she holds grudges quite intently.
Nevertheless, she goes against all advice and drives into the encroaching storm, eventually winding up at the massive, three-story old house where she grew up. She finds Dave unconscious in the crawl space under the house, where he was making repairs before somehow injuring himself terribly. After that first gator shows up and he regains consciousness, we learn that he was attacked, and after that it is essentially he and Haley against both an increasing number of vicious, aggressive, growly, and very hungry alligators and the rising water in the crawl space as the hurricane rages outside. There are a few other characters scattered around, including a friendly police officer (Ross Anderson) and a trio of looters, but we know they exist largely to provide human fodder for the alligators. Haley and Dave's survival is never entirely in question, although screenwriters Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen (The Ward) put them through the wringer as much as possible, offering multiple opportunities for them to be torn limb from limb. Instead, they are mostly gnawed on and tossed around and snapped at a whole lot, which draws a lot of blood and puts them in constant grave danger. There are a few moments of respite and at least one "big talk" scene where Haley and Dave are able to put all their baggage on the table, but mostly they're screaming and yelling and gasping for breath and staring wide-eyed at what will surely be their imminent demise.
Director Alexandre Aja's previous films, including his French-language breakthrough slasher thriller Haute tension (2003) and his remakes of The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Piranha (2010), were increasingly gory and grotesque, but he keeps things fairly tame here, relying more on suspense and scares than outr gross-out moments (we do get one high-angle shot of a victim literally being torn apart by the gators and a wince-inducing moment in which a character's arm is snapped in half while clenched in a gator's jaws). Aja revels in the inherent claustrophobia of the film's primary setting, with Haley and Dave scurrying around in a space in which they can't even stand fully upright while trying to evade the gators. Things open up in the film's last third, and there's a fantastic bit in a flooding bathroom where Haley finds herself trapped inside the shower while a gator slams against the glass door. None of this is particularly original, but Crawl does what it does with such gleeful, unapologetic panache that you can't help but enjoy it.
Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment
Overall Rating: (3)
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