Crawl: A Surprising Chomp
Director Alexandre Aja seeks to bring a bit of French Extremism to the disaster thriller with Crawl. Though its premise isn’t anything new, its taut execution and solid central performances more than make up for the screenplay’s dull teeth. You may just be tickled pink by this surprising chomp!
When a massive hurricane hits her Florida hometown, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) ignores evacuation orders to search for her missing father (Barry Pepper). Finding him gravely injured in the crawl space of their family home, the two become trapped by quickly encroaching floodwaters. As time runs out to escape the strengthening storm, Haley and her father discover that the rising water level is the least of their fears.
It was only a matter of time before the alligator-fueled creature feature made a comeback. It’s a sub-genre of the monster film that’s really never found a large degree of success or produced many fruitful results. Outside of 1980’s Alligator, there really hasn’t been a gator-centered creature feature that was worth a damn— until now, that is.
Essentially, Crawl combines the elements of films like The Shallows and Don’t Breathe and sets it all against a natural disaster backdrop provoked by global warming. Instead of sharks and a blind ex-US Army Special Forces vet, it’s a congregation of gigantic bloodthirsty alligators. Think Sharknado with gators, slightly more smarts, genuinely gripping thrills, and less schlock. The events that unfold are pretty much exclusively limited to one house — more specifically a crawl space, hence the title — which really helps to give the film a simple focus, realistic, time-oriented stakes, and a claustrophobic squeeze.
Aja’s direction is smooth and tight, and he creates a pressure-cooker thriller that boils over with well-crafted moments of tension. He embraces the ridiculous pulp nature of the film’s scenario and attacks it in an adrenaline-pumping way, really finding his footing whenever the film sets the human drama aside for the survivalist action. The thrills aren’t exactly visceral and require some definite suspension of disbelief, but they’re entertaining enough to properly engage the viewer when the writing fails. The film’s shuffled deck and solid execution give Crawl the oomph it needs to clear the gator film’s low bar, and while it manages to hit the mark, it doesn’t exactly vault over the line.
Its writing prevents it from truly exceeding all expectations. It definitely dulls the sharpness of the film’s teeth, but thankfully, it doesn’t lessen the impact of its bite, since it’s predominantly driven by pressurized scenarios and not character or plot. Screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen aren’t particularly interested into probing too deeply into the cause of its natural disaster (global warming) or really fleshing our their characters, but they do muddy the waters by shoehorning an apex predator theme to its main character, which is never used to any meaningful affect. The central characters are understandably rudimentary — that’s all they’re really required to be in this situation — but their assigned backstory is basic and uninteresting. Fortunately, it doesn’t take up too much space in this brisk thriller where gators tend to appear whenever it’s convenient for the plot (and in shockingly large numbers). Luckily, Crawl’s narrative builds in plenty of dumb throwaway side characters for our reptilian antagonists to chomp on while they chase our protagonists from set piece to set piece.
Crawl’s human drama and bad dialogue get in its way at times, but both aspects are salvaged by the committed performances of Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper. Each give their characters some definite gravity and flesh them out in ways that don’t feel apparent on the page. They’re able to bend the boring drama toward something slightly compelling, inflating their characters with just enough emotional density to get us to care when they wind up in a pinch. And our characters are in no way exempt from the sharp CGI jaws of Crawl’s beasts; in between moments of air-tight tension, Haley and her father get all too used to resetting their bones and applying their own tourniquets.
Despite Crawl’s content to swim in the shallow end, it delivers on the things that matter most for this creature feature to be effective. It’s everything a potboiler summer blockbuster should be; it just lacks the brainpower and meaty characters to be truly exceptional. It’s still a fun ride that delivers quality chills and thrills, and due to the low bar, it now stands as one of the apex predators of the alligator sub-genre.
Recommendation: Don’t let its silly pull premise fool you, Crawl has a surprisingly powerful bite, despite its dull set of teeth.
Rating: 3.5 gator tosses outta 5.
What do you think? Were you surprised by Crawl, or did it do nothing for you? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!