R, 87 mins.
2019, R, 87 mins.
Kaya Scodelario as Haley Keller / Barry Pepper as Dave Keller / Ross Anderson as Wayne Taylor / George Somner as Marv / Ami Metcalf as Lee / Josť Palma as Pete
Directed by Alexandre Aja / Written by Shawn and Michael Rasmussen
CRAWL is two movies for the price of one.
It's a monster horror flick about a real life aquatic creature wreaking havoc on a deeply vulnerable family and it's also an outdoor survival drama concerning a dangerous force of Mother Nature baring down on the same said family.
There's not much
here that really reinvents the genre wheel, and the Alexandre Aja (PIRANHA
3D) directed and Sam Raimi/Blumhouse produced effort plays into
the playbook of those aforementioned types of films without straying too
much away from them. But
CRAWL is also refreshingly economic in terms of its approach and premise
and emerges as an absolutely merciless thriller.
It's also one of
the wettest films I've ever seen, and one where you leave the
cinema after having watched it appreciating the sheer logistical technical
craft that went into while simultaneously feeling horrible for the actors,
the few of which must have gone through what appears to be a physically
The hook of CRAWL could not be an more efficiently simple: An estranged father and daughter are brought fatefully together as a lethal hurricane comes crashing in, forcing them to become trapped in their family home's crawl space (hence, the title here) as man hungry alligators swarm in and want to make them a tasty meal. That's essentially it. The strength, though, of CRAWL is that it doesn't waste much running time on particulars (at a scant 87 minutes, the film is a pitch perfect length) and finds novel ways of executing a very straightforward story. The fact that it also manages to have some time for commenting on the ethereal bond between family members when placed in states of anxiety plagued crisis is noteworthy, on top of also rightfully showing the nightmarish extremes of how weather can turn on a dime and threaten countless lives. It would have been deceptively easy for a film like this to lose track of its human interest angle (far too many horror thrillers use their characters like targeted props being served up for the kill), but CRAWL is smarter than that. It allows the characters presented within to have some atypical weight as far as this genre goes, which makes their predicament all the more relatable and frightening.
Now, having said
all of that, comparisons of this film to other similar efforts like JAWS
and even the more recently released THE
SHALLOWS proves inevitable, but I think the juxtapositions between
CRAWL and the 2016 Blake Lively creature feature are more apt, seeing as
both are about strong and empowered women in a grueling fights for their
respective lives against gators and sharks respectively.
CRAWL opens in a southwest Florida town that's about to have a
gigantic Category 5 hurricane swoop in to potentially destroy a lot in its
path. The extremely game Haley (Kaya Scodelario of THE
MAZE RUNNER trilogy) returns home in search of her father, Dave
(the equally game Barry Pepper), who has not been responding to her texts
and phones calls. Fearing
what has happened to her father on top of the storm that's about to
unleash hell on earth, Haley decides to journey home to find out his
whereabouts. It should be
noted that (a) they haven't been on tight terms for years after an
emotionally burdensome divorce between Haley's parents and (b) Dave used
to be his daughter's competitive swimming instructor who once had high
hopes for her future athletic excellence (this ultra convenient plot point
will obviously come in predictably handy later).
home she discovers, to her dismay, that her horribly injured father has
been stuck in the dwelling's crawl space, which prompts her to spring into
immediate action to pull him out of them and get him out of the harm's way
of the storm waters to come (a sweeping and compulsory evacuation order
for the area has been implemented for local authorities).
Tragically, she learns that two gators have been camping out in the
ever increasingly flooded crawl space, one of which chomped down on Dave's
shoulder and leg, making even the slightest movement's for him impossibly
painful. Haley then realizes
that's she's between a proverbial rock and a hard place in trying to keep
both herself and her dad alive while trying to figure out a way to escape
the crawl space without drowning or being eaten alive.
Again, I admire
the dramatic weight given to the two main characters, which helps to
elevate CRAWL above murky B-grade waters (no pun intended).
There's ample tension between Haley and her father, which mostly
stems from the fact that she believes that he spent far too much time
trying to convert her to an "apex predator" athlete instead of
focusing on his marriage and keeping his family together.
CRAWL may be a short film, but it demonstrates some patience early
on in the expository scripting department in terms of establishing the
particulars of its characters and the emotional gulf that exists between
them. In many respects, the
film is not only about physical survival against brutally uncompromising
elements, but also one about personal salvation and having people
reconcile their mutual hurts feelings in order to band together and, well,
live. Of course, CRAWL has it
schlockier elements, to be sure, but it does show some care and attention
to its personas that populate this nutty film.
Aja also makes a
staggeringly good looking film on an extremely meager $14 million budget.
Using a combination of CGI and meticulous sleight of hand puppetry,
Aja and his VFX and production design wizards craft these reptilian
predators with surprising and thankless authenticity.
Beyond that, Aja and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre also execute
scene after scene that realistically evokes the alarming ferocity of the
hurricane contained within (the storm is both visually disturbing and
beautiful at the same time). Aja
is smart in working within his tight financial restraints, opting to focus
solely on the environment of the family home, its basement, and the
surrounding neighborhood lurking outside.
The sense of chilling claustrophobia is always palpable throughout
CRAWL, with Haley and her farther struggling to face off against their
beastly stalkers as well as the environmental impediments (like obtrusive
piping, exposed wire, and completely restricted access to exit points)
while trying not to drown with the water levels rising by the minute.
Those that are aquaphobic will not make it through this film.
CRAWL also benefits from the deeply committed performances by Pepper and Scodelario, the latter of which is given the lion's share of hair raising sequences that most likely required her to put her mind, body, soul, and sanity on the line (I'm quite positive that this was the most unnervingly punishing shoot of her young career). The film is not water tight (again, no pun intended): I think there are times when obligatory jump scares are used too aggressively when the whole dread inducing atmosphere of the piece is infinitely more scary. Also, it can easily be said that Haley's established swimming prowess is pretty contrived in retrospect, which leads to some laughably incredulous moments in the narrative where she's munched on multiple times by those ravenous gators and miraculously and laughably never loses any body parts. And, uh huh, CRAWL is certainly made from the spare parts of countless other survival horror films.
Yet, Aja's film is commendably and editorially tight and is made with a consummate slickness that makes it look like it cost twenty times more than it did. Plus, it transcends it preposterous plot elements by being legitimately and engagingly suspenseful and never overstays its welcome like other bloated summer film season offerings.
You may have to dry off after watching it.