Crawl | Alexandre Aja | July 12, 2019
With the continued onslaught of big summer blockbusters that overspend to deliver disappointing products (some of which we’ve reviewed in recent weeks), it’s actually surprising welcome to get a shlocky B-movie that knows exactly what it is – such as Crawl. Directed by Alexandre Aja and built on a modest reported budget of around $13.5 million (with Sam Raimi producing), Crawl has a simple premise, doesn’t mess around and more or less delivers exactly what is promised in the marketing: Alligators getting back at humanity.
Haley Keller (The Maze Runner‘s Kaya Scodelario) is a competitive swimmer at the University of Florida who gets a phone call from her sister Beth (Morfydd Clark), worried about Haley still being in town on the eve of a Category 5 hurricane, as well the fact that their father Dave (her Maze Runner: The Death Cure co-star Barry Pepper) hasn’t been picking up his phone. During this exchange, screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen hint at a newly broken home. Their parents recently split up, and Haley’s fractured relationship with her father comes to light … and there’s no better time or place to heal family wounds than during a hurricane with the lingering threat of some hungry gators.
Concerned about her father, Haley arrives at his apartment and finds his dog Sugar left unattended. Her gut instinct is to return to their old family home, which her dad was supposed to sell. Upon arrival, she finds him unconscious in the basement with a nasty flesh wound that they are not alone. Waiting in the narrow basement corridors are multiple giant bloodthirsty alligators. Haley and her dad take shelter in a crawl space that the gators can’t get through, but the floodwaters of the hurricane are quickly flooding the basement and forcing them to risk swimming to safety or drown where they stand. They catch up, voice their past grievances, and figure out a way to get out of these murky waters.
You’ve seen some variation of this movie for sure, but Aja and his team don’t waste any time raising the tension and quickly deliver the first vicious blow from one of the alligators, and it becomes abundantly clear that 1) they are not shying away from gore, and 2) no one is safe. While predictable, Aja and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre frame it all in a fairly tense manner and use the score by the team of Max Aruj and Steffen Thum as efficiently as the silence before the inevitable jump scare, which is, unfortunately, the trapping of the genre, one that Aja can’t resist. Thankfully, he builds enough tension to make some of the jumps fun. but after the first few you start to sense when the film is going to show its hand. But it doesn’t shy away from some pretty big bites of blood and gore, earning every bit of its R-rating.
While Haley and her father don’t break any new character ground, there’s enough of a beating heart in their relationship to make you care on the surface. But Scodelario and Pepper are both good enough to elevate this shlocky gore-fest and give performances that you normally wouldn’t find in this sort of feature. It’s strange to see what happened to Pepper’s once-promising career but the now-character actor makes the most of the role and reminds you of his talents, which do deserve better use.
The creature designs have enough realism to land what Aja is selling and that is a mindless good time at the theaters. Briskly paced at 87 minutes, Crawl gets right to the point and delivers a pretty fun time at the theater. It may ultimately be the sort of film that you revisit randomly when you stumble across it on cable at 2 AM, but it knows exactly what it is and delivers at a competent level with two solid performances and, ultimately, the goods.