Crawl finds college student Haley stopping by to check on her dad in the midst of a hurricane. While doing so, she encounters a group of hungry alligators lurking in her father’s flooded basement/crawlspace. She must think on her feet and trust her instincts if she and her father stand any chance of survival.
I am a big fan of Alexandre Aja. I really enjoyed High Tension; I love his reboot of The Hills Have Eyes; I even shamelessly adore Piranha 3D. So, I had sky high expectations going into Crawl. I am pleased to say that the director’s latest effort does not disappoint. In fact, if I were to get ever-so-slightly hyperbolic, I would describe it as a suspenseful and claustrophobic thrill ride that rarely slows down for long enough to catch its breath.
A film like this lives or dies by its performances. When the audience must spend the better part of 90-minutes trapped in a confined space, it’s imperative that the key players be relatable and that the audience gets the chance to know them. Fortunately, Crawl delivers on both accounts. The casting is on point and the characters are sufficiently developed and relatable.
I also have to commend Crawl for showcasing a strong, resourceful, and capable female lead. Not only that, it sees Haley attempting to rescue her father, rather than the typical woman in peril storyline female performers are so frequently relegated to. It’s a refreshing flip of the paradigm.
Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner films) really shines as Haley. Scodelario is able to convey the extent to which Haley’s relationship with her father is strained without the need for an excessive amount of expository fluff or countless flashback sequences. We get a bit of backstory and a few quick time hops to fill in the blanks. But the most powerful indicator of the hurt between Haley and her dad is conveyed with body language, tone, and mannerisms. Their connection feels very real and thereby warrants almost immediate buy-in from the viewer.
Barry Pepper (also of The Maze Runner films) was a solid choice to play Haley’s father, Dave. Pepper immediately puts the viewer in the mind of a dad who tried to do everything right but made plenty of mistakes and has damaged his relationship with his daughter along the way. Haley seems to have inherited her stubbornness from Dave and that trait benefits the both of them during the course of the film. As the picture progresses, we start to realize that Haley and her dad are more alike than either of them have ever stopped to consider.
In addition to great performances from both of its leads, Crawl also boasts a smart script from Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (John Carpenter’s The Ward). The screenplay never talks down to viewers or expects us to suspend our disbelief without giving us the appropriate buildup and good reason to do so.
The characters are resourceful and aware of their surroundings, as well as how to use their location to their advantage. They make logical, reasonable decisions (like banging on the basement pipes to attract the attention of a police officer doing a well being check upstairs). The ever-present question in modern horror ‘why don’t you just use your cell phone to call for help?’ is dealt with in a believable and reasonable fashion. Moreover, the characters are not in the situation they are in due to stupidity. Stubbornness, maybe, but definitely not due to a lack of common sense.
The screenplay gifts us with a couple of perfectly timed moments of levity between the film’s ample scares. Most notably, Haley’s father proclaiming: “We are gonna beat these pea-brained lizard sh*ts”.
Director Alexandre Aja is equally deserving of accolades. He guided his camera crew and cinematographer in capturing some breathtaking underwater shots and makes smart use of the claustrophobic nature of the film’s premise to his full advantage. The viewer feels like they are right there with Haley and her dad, crawling and swimming through treacherous and impossibly tight crawlspaces. The tension builds somewhat slowly through the first act but once Aja starts to ratchet up the excitement, he never lets up. The finale is pulse-pounding and exciting, thanks in no smart part to the director’s understanding of sustaining tension.
I was impressed by the feats of cinematography accomplished at the hands of Maxime Alexandre. Alexandre did particularly beautiful work in the third act when Haley goes underwater through the tunnel looking for safe passage out of the basement/crawlspace.
My one issue with the (otherwise highly impressive) screenplay is that it feels a little too convenient that the main character just happens to be a competitive swimmer on a college team. But, I guess the events in the film have to be happening to someone. And it’s possible (though not at all probable) that the person in question could be a collegiate level aquatic athlete…
My other complaint with the flick is that the CGI is a little wanky. The alligators movements are too fluid and look unnatural at times. It would have been really nice to have seen more animatronics and even real gators used when possible. Ultimately, I have very few complaints with Crawl, which I consider to be an incredibly enjoyable, action-packed picture.
The standout special features are a really fun storyboarded alternate opening and an insightful behind-the-scenes featurette I was a little surprised (and disappointed) by the lack of a commentary track but the featurette is nearly 30-minutes in length and includes interviews with both producer Sam Raimi and director Alexandre Aja, which counts for a lot.
Crawl will be available on Blu-ray and DigitalHD October 14. I absolutely suggest you make haste to check it out if you haven’t yet done so.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Alexandre Aja
Writer(s): Michael and Shawn Rasmussen
Stars: Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper
Release: 10/15/19 (Home Video)
Studio/ Production Co: Paramount, Raimi Productions
Budget: $13.5 Million (Estimated)
Sub-Genre: Killer Creature