Who knew that of all the major studios in Hollywood, Paramount Pictures would be the one to release the most consistently vicious and tension-filled genre films of the late 2010’s. After releasing last year’s smash hit, “A Quiet Place” along with the under-appreciated WWII monster throwback movie, “Overlord” and this year’s better-than-expected Stephen King remake “Pet Sematary”, the studio has slowly started to earn it’s street cred within the horror community and mainstream audiences. With “Crawl”, that street cred should advance even higher.
Underrated horror auteur, Alexandre Aja has returned to the genre that he previously excelled in after two lackluster features with 2013’s “Horns” and 2016’s “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax”. Having initially made a name for himself with his feature “High Tension”, he gained mainstream appeal with his disturbing and brilliant “Hills Have Eyes” remake that stood as an unflinching piece of Bush-era sadistic violence that tackled the deep divide in America, something that rings even more true today. He also helmed the gitty remake, “Piranha 3D”, a film, like this one, that had no business being that good. Produced by Horror icon, Sam Raimi, “Crawl” is a nasty, taut slice of genre cinema done to near perfection.
Similarly gruesome and batshit to Aja’s “Piranha 3D”, “Crawl” embraces it’s B-movie origins, while still taking itself serious enough to keep the drama and danger a legitimate threat. Although the plot is small, it’s quite mighty.
Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is a struggling competitive swimmer heading down to Florida amidst a category 5 Hurricane to check on her estranged father (Barry Pepper) after he’s gone silent from all communication. When she finds him injured in the house basement, Haley attempts to get her father out and into safety, but in the process is attacked by several alligators lurking in the waters around them. With only a set of pipes separating them from the hungry gators and the storm surrounding them causing the water to rise, Haley and her father must figure out a way to escape without becoming gator food or drowning in the Hurricane.
Running at just 83 minutes sans credits, there is zero fat on this films bones. We’re in for a ride that doesn’t let up until the credits roll. Aja wisely doesn’t give the audience much room to breath. Once our hero is stuck in the basement, surrounded by rising water and several hungry gators, we don’t get time to stop and contemplate the situation, we are thrown in the deep end with characters we actually give a shit about and don’t want to see die even when survival seems less likely with every passing minute.
“Crawl” works on practically every level because its so singular in its ambitions. Apart from the relationship of its main characters, there’s no overarching theme or ideas, just an attempt of creating a compelling, edge-of-your-seat creature feature. Director Alexandre Aja knows just how to pull this type of film off. It’s a film that’s easy to mess up and could seem incredibly throwaway, but Aja is so skilled at crafting tightly wound suspense, that throughout the film, I was legitimately hanging on the edge of my seat. The tension becomes damn near unbearable in numerous sequences that are accentuated by some killer jump scares. The jump scares — when there are some — are used to brilliant effect, adding to the already tense atmosphere.
“Crawl” uses every trick in the creature feature book, but is always smart about how to use them. There are plenty of nail-biting close calls, moments of characters calling for help only for them to watch their potential saviors get devoured in gruesome detail; there’s a dog that gets in on the action — whilst getting one of the most suspenseful sequences in the film.
Even with its emphasis on survival and tension, there are plenty of gruesome kills to please most every gore hound. The effects team spared no expense when it comes to vicious dismemberments and other nasty kills that we frankly don’t see enough of it these types of films. “Crawl” delivers on it’s R-rated promise.
Blending practical and CG to great effect, the gators are always terrifying and thankfully, aren’t oversaturated. They are certainly at the forefront for the majority of the film, but thanks to the brilliant cinematography from Maxime Alexandre and excellent sound design, the bloodthirsty reptiles are a legitimate force to be reckoned with and are responsible for some of the biggest jolts you’ll have in a movie theater all year.
Aja also throws in loving nods to “Jaws” and even several classic disaster films like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno”. Between this and “Piranha 3D”, Aja loves his “Jaws” inspired monster “POV” shots.
The deft script by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen understands the best way to invest in the terror of the situation is to write smart, compelling characters with a simple, yet effective backstory to keep us engaged.
Both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper respectively give outstanding performances that demand quite a lot of them. Our leads are battered and bruised throughout the entire film and with most of it set in a small, claustrophobic setting surrounded by water and muck, the grueling physicality required of the performers is not lost on screen.
Their relationship is also what helps separate “Crawl” from other creature features of recent. The bond between the leads is fractured, but their means for survival work to repair the relationship. It’s a well-written and surprisingly moving dynamic for a film that still would’ve worked without it.
Sure, there are some corny moments towards the end and an occasional plot contrivance or two, but they never take away from the film at hand.
“Crawl” is the ultimate summer monster movie. It’s a fun and scary creature feature that accomplishes everything it sets out to achieve. This is the kind of film best seen on opening night with a rowdy audience, large bucket of popcorn in tow, some Swedish Fish and maybe a beer or two.