Crawl brings horror back to its roots this year of Man vs. Nature — make that “Final Girl who can swim vs. a congregation of bloodthirsty Florida ‘gators in the middle of a hurricane.”
Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is a pro swimmer estranged from her divorced dad (Barry Pepper) and she decides to finally reconnect. She calls and calls but gets no answer, so she decides to go visit him in spite of a Category 5 hurricane making landfall. Braving the tempest, Haley tracks him down at the house where she grew up, injured and unconscious.
A simple check-up turns into a rescue mission and then a fight for survival. She discovers her father was maimed by a gigantic hungry alligator — one of a family using the basement as a nesting ground. And they and the storm are about to devour everything in their path.
The title is odd, more fitting for something about giant bugs. It would’ve been better to call this Eaten Alive, Devour, Blood Feast, or (you know) Super Gator (and the director has probably seen all of those, but I will get to him) although the story still works. At its heart is a father-daughter bond the likes of which we don’t see out of Hollywood often enough anymore. Most father figures are either deadbeats or sitcom doofuses.
Crawl’s script is written by the sibling team of Michael & Shawn Rasmussen who penned 2010’s The Ward. That film reminded everybody what a master of horror John Carpenter still is. The brothers crafted a plot that sets up, builds, and accelerates at all the right points. Twenty-or-so minutes in, the killer “crocs” show up and we’re into the second act. Things move from there at a rapid pace.
Not only does it move, it’s also very contained. The run time is tight at under 90 minutes, meaning there is barely a lull in the action. Consistently, people are attacked or eaten, and suspense never takes a long time to pay off.
The trailers don’t give much away, for once, except for what the characters are up against. In fact, their mixed signals instill the wrong impression. You’ll go in thinking there will be more free-range action than there really is. Most of the movie is claustrophobically confined to a single area of a house. And, when they do go outside, it’s to cross the street — and that doesn’t work out. See, there is that storm and everything.
Constraints raise tension but confinement isn’t the selling point of a creature feature: gore and numbers are. And at the helm are some good people taking care of that.
Alexandre Aja directs and, known as he is for remakes of notorious exploitation films (Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D, Maniac), is in his element here. Crawl is familiar territory for him; he essentially swaps man-eating piranha for man-eating reptiles but takes the circumstances dead seriously. Aja knows the mix he’s playing with and just adds water — torrential amounts.
He plays as real as he can with the disaster-movie aspect, uncomfortably emphasizing every chance he gets the pain of someone setting a bone or dressing a wound. Many moments will have you wincing or averting your eyes, a small price for watching people battle scaly creatures.
The alligators do what you expect, they bite and snap and hiss, and take a few limbs with them, like the shark from Jaws. Unlike sharky, they’re CG, with some possible puppetry in a few shots, but they always come across as real despite their nightmare-monster trimmings. Their only drawback: the gators are so ubiquitous at times, barely felt at others. Erratic as they are too, attacking and killing practically everybody in sight, they give up the chase just as suddenly or act cool and unfazed, as if they went to the Spielberg School for Scary Predators.
In its protagonists, however, Crawl’s really ridiculous and unbelievable moments lurk. For all the injuries, tourniquets, bites, and loss of limbs, Haley and her dad find second and third winds to keep on trucking (and swimming). They recover like Wolverine while anyone caught in the action or jumping in to save them is more expendable than a Red Shirt on Star Trek.
A moment, in the end, makes it seem like their luck could run out and it feels like Aja had one resolution in mind. He either had second thoughts or was pressured by producers to make changes. Not surprising, an alternate ending does exist, giving you a reason to buy the Blu-ray.
Alex Aja, the Rasmussens, and producer Sam Raimi don’t top themselves, but they stay consistent with expectations. Crawl is a serviceable thriller with interesting enough conflict that is worth catching anywhere in the right mood.
- Short runtime.
- Pacing & direction.
- Not always believable.
- Takes place in mostly one location.