Synopsis – A young woman, while attempting to save her father during a Category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against alligators.
My Take – For decades creature features dominated the release calendar. Ants, bats, snakes, bears, lions, you name it, there would be an animal attack film about some unlucky people caught up between a creature and his search for a meal. However, as it is for most glorious genres, diminishing returns finally saw such films being shunned from big screen releases and mostly being delegated to DVD and VOD formats.
However with the back to back success of Shark features like The Shallow, 47 Meters Down and The Meg, a renaissance of sorts for the genre has begun, making it the best time to bring back alligators, who have had about 30 or more films till date to their name, as reminder to why these reptiles are equally terrifying.
And as one could have guessed from its trailers, this latest feature helmed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), written by the Rasmussen brothers and backed by Sam Raimi and Paramount, is expectedly gory, suspenseful, and crazily entertaining. This isn’t a film embedded in metaphor or theme and has only motive – to be a killer gator flick, and it excels at that singular ambition delivering a wet and wild time at the films.
The Hurricane disaster element mixed with the alligator horror element is pulled off well and the characters are people you root for to survive. It’s a very simple premise which is handled well and doesn’t go above and beyond to makes itself feel absurd, and unrealistic, all the while making sure you are having a bloody good time.
The story follows Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a competitive swimmer studying at Florida University on a sports scholarship. While her most recent race left her fuming and in search of motivation for coming very close in the second position, a worried call from her sister acts as the much needed distraction.
It turns out that Dave (Barry Pepper), her semi-estranged father and former coach, hasn’t been responding to any calls or texts, and with category 5 hurricane hitting the Florida coast, she is worried that unlike others, he may be planning to ride it out in their small hometown.
And despite warnings being beamed on every channel, Haley decided to check on him. However on reaching their former house, she is shocked to find him unconscious in the crawlspace of their old, decrepit family home, with a huge alligator blocking their way. With the clock ticking on the hurricane, that is flooding the area, the two must bond to fight for their survival.
Less than 20 minutes into the film, and we’re on. The film definitely delivers what it sets up to be and it is unsurprising as the director is no stranger to the horror genre as he had also previously helmed the 2010 remake, Piranha 3D. This film is most certainly what you would expect it to be, but it isn’t bad by any means, however it knows the nature of its premise, and just goes for it.
The film is something of a glorious throwback to the simple, down ‘n’ dirty creature features of old, and while CG beasts have replaced prosthetic creations and live animals the thrills, jumps, screams, and laughs remain. There are the expected genre bumps, but at under ninety minutes the film gets in quick and stays in just long enough to leave audiences smiling.
It’s a simple setup left thankfully uncluttered by subplots or unnecessary characters, and it jumps right into the action after a brief but effective character introduction. It does have some decent backdrop story with the relationship the father and daughter has. Such as the mother leaving the family cause he was focused on his daughters swimming league. Which shows the bond they both have and are trying to survive the hurricane and the alligators. And they are forced to survive the waves and the flooding.
And the several alligators that are fast, scary, and they can jump out of the water at any given moment. Yes, the film does have a few jump scares that will make you jump. There are some cringing gory scenes with the characters getting attacked. The intensity is genuine, and the gore/kills are well executed, and I do believe there are some pretty nice practical effects utilized throughout.
The setting in a crawlspace during a hurricane is inherently claustrophobic in nature, and the film does play that up a fair amount. You peer into the darkness, into the muddy waters just like the characters trying to see any signs of the unwanted predator guests.
It appears that that alligator farm just opened the pens into the neighborhood. A band of looters and a rescue party serve as powerful reminders of what awaits Haley and Dave if they are fortunate enough to get out of the basement. The alligators swim onto the scene early, and while they’re CG creations they look and move with a natural and believable menace.
Director Aja uses them wisely, sometimes they burst into frame, other times they glide slowly towards their target and they become the constant threat for viewers that they are for Haley and her dad. As the water rises their presence grows even more obfuscated leading to some terrific shocks and terrifying wide shots of the water’s expanse between the characters and safety.
The hurricane effects are astounding, particularly given the budget. And hats off to the editor Elliot Greenberg, as the pacing of this film is exquisite, and given how much action there is and how tight the environments are, you never got lost in this film.
There are some minor plot conveniences, and characters that are introduced just to die, and how the two are be able to withstand an inordinate amount of injury and still be functional. They both get bitten multiple times, yet they manage to shake off the grievous normally life-threatening injuries. There’s tough, and then there’s ridiculously tough. But i guess this can be overlooked due to the small scale nature of the story.
Performance wise, both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper are great and share amazing chemistry. While Pepper gives a sincere performance, but it’s Scodelario who holds her own going toe to toe with gators and a steady stream of bad luck. She does great work balancing the intensity, exasperated humor, and emotional threads layered lightly throughout.
It doesn’t quite get heavy on that last front despite some attempts to play up family dramas, but the handful of emotional beats that are present land due in large part to her performance. On the whole, ‘Crawl’ is an entertaining, suspenseful and claustrophobic disaster horror that benefits from its massive intensity.
Directed – Alexandre Aja
Rated – R
Run Time – 87 minutes