It would be easy for a holiday-themed movie to just slide a mug of green beer down the bar for St. Patrick’s Day. Happily the creative team behind Crawlers has a little more complex brew on tap.
The March installment of Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology from Blumhouse is a rich blend of visuals, character, and sci-fi horror with a just dash of humor. The last two ingredients may be where we get the most suds, but all-in-all, it’s a hearty pour with some substance.
Crawlers, directed by Brandon Zuck, begins around 10 p.m. during the annual St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl in the small college town of Emerald Springs. “…Chicago has the whole green river thing, but we do more of a green river of puke thing,” explains towney pot dealer Shauna (Giorgia Whigham). She’s on hand to talk us through events with a few insights. The pub crawlers have been joined this year by body-snatching aliens. Those are sure to interrupt the fun and the interpersonal drama swirling around college student Misty (Pepi Sonuga).
Despondent over frat house incidents she can’t fully recall, Misty is hoping to reconnect with bestie Chloe (Jude Demorest), a party girl. Chloe’s proved incapable of providing emotional support in recent weeks. At the evening’s outset, Misty learns she’s being edged out as sidekick by the snobby and confident New Yorker Yuejin (Olivia Liang offering a sharp edge). She’s “kind of a b**ch, always down for a good time and has a closet full of clothes in Chloe’s size…” as Shauna puts it. Shauna is Chloe’s pot dealer, by the way.
Looming also around the evening is Aaron (Cameron Fuller,) prez of the frat where Misty was roofied by another abrasive frat bro.
As raw nerves are further aggravated, Misty detects out-of-character behavior among the vapid crowd. Shauna’s quick to suspect it’s tied to a meteor that landed a few years before. Her mom, sort of a Van Helsing in curlers, has been floating conspiracy theories ever since. Seems suspicions are coming to a head.
It’s soon up to this gang to thwart an invasion attempt, especially after the patrolman on duty’s assimilated. As relationships churn Crawlers sprints toward a ticking-clock finale with a few chomps and chases by the invaders.
There’s an interesting green tint to much of the film’s world, and the flick makes good use of its pub trappings. Green alien blood and other lighting blend into the thematic and visual mix that stands out from standard direct-to-streaming fare.
As the character frictions indicate, the storyline from Catherine Wignall and Mike Gan offers up just a little more than the usual cluster of youthful characters in genre films. That means a few more dramatic rewards than you might expect in an alien-invasion flick.
Misty is bruised; cautious but also ready to grow as the film opens. We feel her painful missteps and misinterpretations thanks to Sonuga’s subtle acting touches. Whigham’s Shauna is a cynical and resourceful counterpoint to Misty’s naiveté. Even Aaron has a few textured flourishes to keep him engaging while keeping us wondering if he’s all bad.
The aliens, who can look and act like those assimilated, never really rise to the level of paranoid menace of say Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Alien. Crawlers isn’t long on creepy chills. Suspense comes in spurts, but since we’re really caring for Misty and Shauna emotionally by the climax, maybe the horror-drama ratio is a feature and not a bug here.
Shauna’s voiceovers are the chief source of humor. They’re a tad reminiscent of Zombieland, though not reaching for the same levels. They do add depth and dimension to the story, but just a touch more in the joke department might have been an additional elevation of the material.
Tune in to Crawlers for a bit of holiday diversion before or after your St. Patrick’s Day plans. Just set your expectations to character-driven-with-a-few-thrills, and you should enjoy what’s on tap. Catch Crawlers beginning March 6, 2020 on Hulu!
Wicked Rating: 7/10
Director: Brandon Zuck
Writer: Catherine Wignall and Mike Gan
Starring: Pepi Sonuga, Cameron Fuller, Giorgia Whigham, Olivia Liang, Jude Demorest
Release: March 6, 2020 (Hulu)
Runtime: 80 minutes