All I had to do was see the poster for Crawl to know that I was 100% in for it. Add in the fact that Alexandre Ajawas directing and Sam Raimi was producing and I knew my butt was going to be in the movie theater seat for the first showing. I avoided any trailers or pictures because I didn’t need them. I love animal attack movies with a passion. They’re an important staple of the horror genre, and so when we get a good one, I want to experience it without any preconceived notions. And I am more than happy to say that Crawl is, while very simplistic, an amazingly effective killer alligator movie that serves as perfect summer box office fare.
The movie follows Haley (Kaya Scodelario, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile), a young college student in Florida who goes in search of her missing father (Barry Pepper of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) at her sister’s insistence, as a dangerous hurricane brews in their area. She finds him injured in the crawlspace of his house, and the two of them soon become trapped there at the behest of a giant alligator.
While I was honestly expecting something on a bigger scale, I was very pleasantly surprised at the tight, contained script offered by screenwriting brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen. Setting a movie almost entirely in a low, dark and dirty crawlspace is a tricky endeavor, yet these two created something that skillfully manages to keep the tension fresh throughout. They get things going right away in the beginning, with almost no setup for the characters, and really, not much is needed. There is obviously some mild familial conflict between Haley and her father, but only enough to give both of the mains a satisfying arc, and nothing that gets in the way of the central story, i.e. the gators.
Aja’s directing of the script elevates it to exactly the right level to deliver almost everything you could want from a movie like this. The feeling here is something more akin to 2016’s The Shallows than Lake Placid. Aja provides expert timing to the jump scares, of which there are several good ones, and a keen eye for successfully suspenseful shot set-ups (with some nice homages to Jaws and Jurassic Park). He makes great use of the small location, as there are little pockets of the crawlspace that are like their own sets, each offering a different level of danger for the characters as they try to escape. His trademark gore is a little more subtle here, but again, effective.
Barry Pepper is a criminally underused actor these days, so it was wonderful to see him appearing as Dave. Kaya Scodelario carries the film well as Haley, who seems to be a bit of an embittered girl right from the start. And while I do question her decision of wearing flip-flops in a hurricane, and the convenience of her character being a competitive swimmer (us normal folks would definitely not be as good in the water as she is), she’s someone who you can instantly turn around on because of her actions. Though they are maybe not on the best terms at the start of the movie, it seems that Haley and Dave had to be together in this scenario to survive. Haley’s competitive nature was groomed by her father from a young age as he coached her in swimming, and they each play their part here to maneuver through the situation.
Dave best describes Haley as stubborn, but one who won’t give up. You definitely believe that, watching her fight off the gators in the first attack scene, and later on as their attacks escalate. Because if one thing’s for sure, it’s that the characters do not get off easy at all in Crawl. There are legs and arms chomped on in several scenes, often making you question if they are actually going to survive this.
In this way, there’s a certain comfort to be taken from animal attack movies. You know that most of them are at least going to deliver on the element of fun, simply because of the nature of the film. But there’s also a comfort in knowing that what you’re going to see is the most basic story of survival, on the side of both the protagonist and antagonist. The alligators in Crawl are vicious, but you can’t be mad at an alligator for following its instincts to hunt and feed, and you’ll hopefully be rooting for the humans to muster up that courage and will to live. No matter the circumstances, these stories can be very inspiring. Life is short, you know? And some day you might have to save yourself and your father from an army of man-eating alligators in a raging hurricane. Seems plausible to me.
The alligators themselves look fantastic. The actors get very close to the CG beasts, whose movements are fluid and realistic. Nothing about their look was exaggerated to make them scarier – they’re just plan old gators that are scary enough because of their proximity. The hurricane is almost like another character in the movie. It, of course, causes a lot of the problems for the protagonists as it builds.
Crawl is the kind of summer movie we need, and thank goodness, we got one this good. There’s no silliness to be had here – just a great, controlled animals-run-amok romp that more than delivers on the action and suspense. With such a great team behind it, Crawl is sure to be a new favorite among creature feature enthusiasts. Also, you’ll fall in love with Sugar the dog.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Alexandre Aja
Writer(s): Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Stars: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper
Release: July 12 2019
Studio/ Production Co: Paramount Pictures, Raimi Productions
Budget: $13.5 Million
Length: 87 minutes
Sub-Genre: Animal Attacks