“A young woman, while attempting to save her father during a Category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against alligators.”
That is IMDB’s one-line summary for Crawl, and it is picture perfect. Together a simple concept, limited scope, compressed time frame and a unique idea combine to make Crawl a delightfully bloody and overachieving horror adventure.
At a brisk 87 minutes, exposition is put together at a brisk but all-be-it entertaining pace. The audience is introduced to Haley, a student-athlete swimmer with the Florida Gators. Soon after the gravity of the hurricane approaching is established and our heroine must travel to see if her stubborn and self-isolated father is safe.
She finds her dad injured and then CHOMP. Let loose the alligators!
The plot is simple and that’s too it’s major benefit. The modest story allows for major aspects of Crawl to shine and one of its brightest spotlights is actress Kaya Scodelario. The star of The Maze Runner franchise has had recent appearances in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, but none of those are better movies or performances than Crawl.
Scodelario buys in. From the gun, she goes full-tilt 50-meter sprint energy. In monster movies, specially the better self-contained variety, need to have a character the audience is rooting for. You don’t want to see, say, a kid eating a wiener hot dog in a flooding gas station live. But a badass chick who overcomes the odds despite showing mortal human traits and not being superhuman; I’ll be their cheerleader.
The only other notable acting face audiences will recognize is Barry Pepper, who plays Haley’s dad. The two interact and share the screen for almost the entirety of Crawl. The dialogue written for them by Alexandre Aja is not too serious and JUST cheesy enough where it won’t take you out of the movie. The only cringe worthy scene between the two is the obligatory father-daughter rehashing and band-aiding their relationship spat. Everyone knows it’s coming, and for the awkwardness it could have been, Scodelario and Pepper keep it afloat.
In terms of scares, Crawl packs some punches but the majority of the time is spent establishing a sense of suspense. There are moments of literal do-or-die and various set pieces where Aja does a strong job establishing the stakes. The staging of space in the house subtly established from the get-go of the movie. When the alligators attack and Haley has to escape, the audience isn’t left wondering where certain rooms of house aspects come from.
Personally, the way the movie was made is fascinating to me. Pepper noted on Barstool’s “Lights, Camera, Pod” podcast that he and Scodelario were submerged in a swampy setting for 10-plus weeks. A pair of set stages were built and constantly flooded with millions of liters of water. Both Pepper and his co-star went through rigorous underwater training for months leading up to the production both in outdoor and indoor settings. I cannot imagine making Crawl was an easy feat, but the intimacy in the main settings add to the surprise thrills the film delivers.
If one where to nit-pick, there are fair criticisms to make. The CGI is not great all the way through. The power of the alligators isn’t the smoothest in terms on consistency; sometimes characters get rag-dolled into walls and are torn to shreds, but there are moments where it’s a single chomp. And to anyone who has seen dangerous weather movies, there are set pieces that seem like a prerequisite for production.
BUT WHO CARES! Crawl is a monster movie at its core. The actors know it. The director knows it. Crawl is confident in what it is, and that is its saving grace. If you enjoy Trollhunter, Monsters, Cloverfield, The Mist, Tremors, or The Descent, then you will be thoroughly entertained by Crawl.
By the way, the early established homage to the film’s menacing presence with the Gators is just one of the self-referential and movie references tossed in Crawl. I noticed a direct reference to the quintessential water monster movie Jaws, and a very similar setting and shooting like the claustrophobic garbage trash compactor scene in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Other random fact; Crawl wasn’t streamed for critics or audiences before its release. Did they not know there was a major summer surprise on their hands? Would some pre-release buzz help with its box office success? No way to know, but Crawl deserves to be seen by more people than it’ll probably entice.
This is the third movie directed by Alexandre Aja. He helmed the first ever horror movie I saw in theaters, the remake of The Hills Have Eyes which came out in 2006 and scared me at the time and garnered a B- grade. Then the 2010 Piranha 3-D experience which I wasn’t a huge fan of; I have that a D+. To be fair, it was well liked by the majority of audiences and made 25 million box office with the absurd premise.
One connection between Crawl and Piranha 3-D is that Aja is credited as the screenwriter, director and producer. He’s done the triple-dose three times, twice with major success now. The only blemish was his first attempt in 2008 with Mirrors.
Crawl is by far my favorite movie of the three Aja directed movies I’ve seen. It has the best organization and pace compared to the other two feats of his I’ve seen. It’s not as terrifying as The Hills Have Eyes, but the strong sense of appropriate self-realization with constant energy and suspense makes Crawl a recommendation for anyone who’s a fan of creature movies and movie-concepts that punch above their weight class.
STANKO RATING: B-
P.S. | I went to go see Crawl with Courtney and her reactions to me seeing It: Chapter 2 and Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker trailers may have been scarier for her than Crawl itself. I went full nerdy queen-bee extended “YESSSSSSSSSS” when they came up.