The summer movie season usually isn’t complete without at least one horror plot involving dangerous animals (ala Jaws or last summer’s The MEG), dangerous weather (The Perfect Storm), a dangerous building structure of any size (Skyscraper), or a welcome combination of the three. Alexandre Aja’s Crawl is sure to fulfill all three on anyone’s summer flick bingo card, knowing those CG alligators and crocs, they’re the real star of the show. Even while sitting there and wondering if there is still much to this simple horror tale, those simple things do aid in a fully complex tale.
Set in a small Florida town, but shot in Serbia, supposedly making use of their military grade water tanks, Crawl is essentially a more static, slow burn-type variant of any cheesy nature-centric B-movie from generations past, situating a broken down house against a powerful Cat-5 hurricane. None of that fazes our heroine, Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a collegiate swimming star with plenty to prove. Yet when the heavy rain hits and evac orders are called, there’s only one thing on her mind: get her family out. And yes, that does include Dave (Barry Pepper), her estranged father and former coach, whom she finds in the middle of their belowdecks crawlspace, badly injured. It’s no thanks to the film’s honest villains, a swarming army of bloodthirsty alligators whose presence is all but unbelievable, and thematically speaking, a bit long for the tooth.
Screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (The Inhabitants) make the otherwise smart, if not predictable move to centralize the action over a nearly 90 minutes of screen allotment. Keep it in the crawlspace, where a system of pipes, rising water, and hungry animals could do the pair in if they’re not careful. And much of the time, they are until they absolutely must dodge an incoming attack. That song-and-dance, for lack of a better term, does get old after a while, and yet Aja (whose best credits include notable reboots of Piranha and The Hills Have Eyes) knows how to keep the activity fresh on the eyes, tight on the stomach. The plot may repeat its own cadences after a while, but it’s no less visually intense, the usual for DoP Maxime Alexandre (Shazam!) whose work is nothing short of captivating.
For a film with so few cast members, much of the supporting performers only appearing for a minute or less before disappearing in one way or another, the focus remains very firm, unwavering. Scodelario is at her most confident, pluckiest, against what had to have been overwhelming shooting conditions. Mr. Pepper, ever the considerate character actor, is not as physical, but could still command a scene. But again, it’s those swamp denizens delivering the standout performance, commendable mammals who, while digitally generated, dialogue-free, their screen talents reinforced by truth in a scene; they needn’t go ignored, but rather celebrated, even if only for a series of effective reaction shots and jump scares.
Crawl, in the end, isn’t so much the major summer crowd-pleaser many would hope for; it finds a more appropriate niche in that B-movie realm that many who grew up in the 70s are all too familiar. The glut of rogue animal films after Jaws is its own best example, and I almost wish this would’ve been one in that stable. Audiences who do partake while it’s in theaters may be given a weird, high-octane nostalgia trip with a side order of ironic truth, yet it’s bound to earn a better life down the line on television.
Alligators, like sharks, can be a real danger, and to overcome any spot of danger, it must be with teamwork if not alone. Father and daughter do reconnect well, as they should while trying to avoid being devoured as their home floods over. And Aja captures said danger, and perseverance in rather the same light as other works prior. It is a very under-the-radar piece of comfort food filmmaking, simplistic and yet rock-solid in its execution. And for what on the surface would be nothing more than a mere creature feature whose likes are not at all unfamiliar, a big splash, on occasion, is necessary to shake things up. But obviously, no hunting. That’s the worst idea. (3.5/5 horns up)
Crawl is in area theaters now; rated R for bloody creature violence and brief language; 87 minutes.