Crawl is directed by Alexandre Aja and stars Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper.
It is an ironic thing that a creature-feature horror film like Crawl, a film with B-movie potential, could do the seemingly impossible and not only meet basic expectations but surpass them as well. 2019 has been pretty beefed up with blockbuster movies, though July is shaping up to be the most barren month of the year when it comes to new releases that everyone can get excited about. A movie like Crawl, however, is one that is needed at this point in summer: a film whose premise and setting perfectly match the summer season, while also being a perfectly good way to spend an hour and a half when its usually too hot or too rainy to do anything outside. Had Crawl been a run-of-the-mill horror flick in which hapless humans find themselves up against some hungry monster(s), no one would give it a second thought two weeks after its opening weekend. It might as well have been delegated to the Thursday night, 8 PM slot on the Syfy Channel. Here's the thing though: Crawl is much more deserving of a wide theatrical release, because its technical prowess and all-around execution is so much better than it has any right to be, and that alone is enough to tell the Syfy Channel to go take a hike.
The story of Crawl is nothing complex: University of Florida (Get it? 'Cause they're the Gators?) swimmer Haley Keller (Scodelario) gets caught in a Category 5 hurricane, and her father Dave (Pepper), also living in Florida, isn't answering her calls. Haley drives over to her old family house and finds Dave, passed out and bloodied, in the house's crawl space. Just as Haley is about to get Dave out of the crawl space, two giant alligators emerge and attack. Haley and Dave must find a way to outmaneuver the gators, while the hurricane intensifies and the crawl space begins to flood.
For the record, there are more than two human characters and more than two alligators in the movie, but for the majority of the film's 87 minutes, that's all you really need to know. If Alexandre Aja is not a name you recognize, he is the same director behind Piranha 3D: a 2010 comedy horror flick that was definitely trying to be as funny as possible. Whether killer piranhas were your thing or not back in 2010, I assure you that Aja does not bring the same sort of comedic approach to Crawl as he did to Piranha 3D. Crawl is bloody and horrific without any major comedic undertones, but it's also self-aware enough that the movie is completely acceptable to laugh at. Nothing like watching gators team up and make lunch out of hapless humans, even if those humans are not naked women at the beach or dumb teenagers who choose to go swimming at the worst time imaginable. These are also gators that gain a better advantage as the film goes on: the more the flood waters rise, the more access the gators have to both the house and the streets.
- Everything about why Crawl works as well as it does is in the execution. First and foremost, this is a competently made horror film from top to bottom: no major setbacks in areas such as directing, acting, or special effects. Alexandre Aja finds a way to take what little plot he has and turn what could be tiny, forgettable scenes into something of greater value. There's a scene where three people are stealing an ATM machine and robbing an abandoned convenience store. Normally, this would be a pure, "monster kills dumb humans" scene, and while the gators do chow down on these three people, it also happens that these people are close by the house where Haley and Dave are trapped, and Haley manages to get their attention, only for the gators to show up and crush Haley's hope for escape. The acting, primarily from Scodelario and Pepper, is well-rounded and convincing enough that we can be more invested in their characters' peril. As for the alligators, they are about as real-looking as they could be for a film with a reported $13.5 million budget. There aren't too many close-up shots on the gators nor much human-gator wrestling, but the gators never look like stiff mechanical models nor CGI cookie-cut outs, and that's about as much as I or anyone else could ask for from the visual effects crew. It is clear that experienced professionals worked on this movie, and they treated just about everything in this movie with care and patience. That kind of stuff matters so much in the final product.
- Crawl deserves praise for its execution, but that doesn't mean the movie is without its head-scratching moments. First and foremost, the design of the house where much of the movie takes place: the basement walls have cross-shaped openings, which means water can easily flow in during a hurricane or a flood, and, unless I've been seeing things on TV and reading the news incorrectly all my life, Florida is a common hot spot for hurricanes and floods. If I was Dave, I would have filed a lawsuit against the designer of the house, because while the house doesn't have to be impervious to hurricanes, it should not be an open invitation to flood waters. There's also a scene where Haley comes across some alligator eggs, and that would have been a nifty little scene had Haley found herself up against a couple hungry, baby alligators. Unfortunately, such a scene never happens, which makes you wonder why they bothered to show an alligator nest at all. Haley doesn't have a big fight with a gigantic momma alligator, so what's the point in showing us that one of the alligators is laying eggs? Confusing little moments like these are sprinkled throughout the film and slightly diminish the horror aspects, which is why I can't say this film is terrifying or anything to that extent.
I sort of wanted to take a break from all the sequels and superheroes when it comes to new releases, and I am grateful that a film like Crawl came along to satisfy my craving. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but Crawl is the type of movie you want to get at least once every summer: short, simple, and a whole lot of fun. Alexandre Aja's direction, the acting, and the alligators serve up a chomping good time that offers plenty of bang for your buck. The overall execution is better than it has any right to be, and while moments of stupidity are here and there, this creature feature far surpasses its B-movie possibilities. Time will tell if we can say this movie is memorable or not, and if the answer ends up being no, well, at least these gators took a nice bite out of summer 2019.
Recommend? Yes. This movie is nasty, bloody fun and is worth your time.
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