Crawl is a zippy closed quarters horror experience that is mostly dumb but features good chaos and keeps things lively almost it’s entire running time.

Crawl is a zippy closed quarters horror experience that is mostly dumb but features good chaos and keeps things lively almost it’s entire running time. This is quite a feat considering it’s basically just one long extended scene of two characters being trapped while avoiding getting eaten. There is also a lot of superfluous family melodrama that really doesn’t quite pay off, but as an exercise in sustaining tension it is pretty good. Also seeing alligators chomp unsuspecting saps remains enjoyable throughout.

Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is trying to get a hold of her dad, Dave (Barry Pepper), as a Category Five hurricane is threatening to destroy their Florida town. Missing from his apartment, she goes to their old childhood home and finds him in the basement, wounded from a vicious animal attack. It turns out that giant, hungry and very ticked off alligators have trapped him and Haley in the basement. The father and daughter can only find refuge behind a smattering of pipping but whenever they try to escape the alligators swarm, and whenever someone wanders over to try to help the alligators attack them too. With the waters rising and the levees threatening to break, they must get out of there before water or gators (or both) end them. 

The emotional hook of the movie is that dad is divorced and alone so his kid goes to check on him when things could get potentially nasty. The father and daughter dynamic is heartfelt although it does tend to get in the way of the gator gore. Haley has a backstory about how she wants to be a swimming champion complete with a flashback to her dad training her as a little kid. It’s supposed to show that she is determined to complete whatever impossible task but it’s also why she can swim real quick like to avoid gators. There is exposition between the two characters about her swimming history; scenes like this are usually is pointless but it’s delivered as Haley is slowly moving through the basement trying to avoid getting attacked so the dad tries to keep her mind off of the gators. This is a decent way to make a mandatory dull character backstory scene more engaging. 

Pepper is maybe a bit too young to be playing a father to a grown woman but the movie tries to make him look older with a bad goatee, a goatee that he sheepishly admits he grew for his online dating profile. Probably the best stuff he does is be on the receiving end of some gator related mishaps. When his daughter finds him his leg bone is literally broken in half and at one point he snaps his leg back together into a split which is really gruesome and effective. Also, near the end he has another encounter with an alligator that is downright nasty.

The movie is basically tense set-pieces as the duo struggle to get out of the basement. Moments like Haley trying to get to her phone are structured so that each little advance without being attacked seems like a victory. There’re also great moments like Haley struggling to get to a trap door but when she gets there it’s blocked. Director Alexandre Aja has good command of the frame as the big gators will pop out of the corner of the shot to chomp on anyone. He excellently slowly reveals the number of gators they’re facing, as Haley is trying to get away from just one and then is suddenly attacked by another one. The duo also have a pet dog and seemingly the dog’s entire reason to be there is to generate cheap scares. This movie does seem nasty enough to kill off the lovable pet and it’s almost a relief when the killer gator goes for a human instead. 

The gators are mostly CGI creations which look convincing when they’re partially submerged in the water but a few shots outside they look a little fake. Still, like a good monster horror, they’re more suggested than seen. The best stuff is when they get their teeth on hapless humans, conveyed by movement, loud noises and a few choice gore shots. There’s a whole bit where some opportunistic hurricane looters are stealing an ATM as Haley signals them from the basement for help, which leads to the gators pouncing on one of them in the background while the other person doesn’t know what is happening. The gators seem downright spiteful of the humans in their way. Even when some helpful and unlucky cops show up, the gators immediately go right after them like it’s personal. Like a lot of killer animal movies, it is not particularly realistic but the creatures do make for a compelling unstoppable threat. 

While a lot of movies set in a hurricane feature high angle shots of wanton destruction across the area, this keeps the point of view locked down as the hurricane is more of an oppressive force that is slowly sinking away the character’s safety. This isn’t a disaster movie, it’s a monster movie that takes place during a natural disaster. Crawl narrows it’s focus down to a small situation and then continually has things go rather terribly for the characters caught in the middle. It has an effective bite, which is most important thing in a monster movie.  V



3 stars

Director: Alexandre Aja


Starring: Kaya Scodelario, 

Barry Pepper and

Morfydd Clark 

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