Directed by Alexandre Aja
Starring Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper
In the touch-and-go genre of horror, there is a subgroup that is even more dicey: the nature-run-amuck story. For every blockbuster like Jaws, there are ’70s shlockfests like Squirm, Piranha, and Alligator, entries that feel the need to up the cringe factor by mutating their creatures into jacked-up predators. No scientific splicing or military testing, however, taints the plot of Crawl. What you have instead is a congregation of alligators whose insatiable hunger and ability to pop up at the most opportune moments practically scream narrative engineering.
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Which is not to say that Crawl isn’t without its nail-biting pleasures. Crawl is Jaws inside a waterlogged house: 87 minutes of muscular thrills and bone-crunching fun, a bracing adrenaline shot in a Hollywood season lately plagued by bloated running times. It all starts with a category 5 hurricane bearing down on Gainesville, Florida, where university swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario of the Maze Runner series) promises her far-flung sister that she will check on their estranged father (Saving Private Ryan’s Barry Pepper), who hasn’t been answering frantic messages to evacuate. Against all road blocks and common sense, Haley tracks her missing father down at her childhood home, where she finds him injured in a small corner of the crawl space beneath the house. Soon, she comes face to face with a humongous alligator, an escapee from the farm next door (only in Florida). And as rising flood waters threaten the paternal duo with imminent drowning, more of the deadly lizards come slithering in to partake of the buffet.
Alexander Aja broke through in Hollywood with remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha, and he combines the claustrophobic elements of the former with the over-the-top freakishness of the latter in Crawl. He is aided by the script written by brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (which finds ingenious ways for the actors to make their way up from the crawl space into the house, getting terrorized and chomped on along the way), as well as the lighting of director of photography Maxime Alexandre and Paul Hackner’s sound design. The French director’s aim is laser-focused: Despite some clunky moments where father and daughter thresh out their issues, Crawl is not interested in character development—it exists to make you jump out of your seat.
Now, are there instances of blatant narrative manipulation along the way to its objective? Are there, say, instances where Haley must retrieve a cell phone outside the relative safety of a crawl space bordered by low-hanging pipes…and then make a 911 call before she thinks to scurry back? Are there underwater shots that, by all rights, should be murky and yet seem to be clearly lit by inexplicable light sources? The answer is: Do alligators have scaly tails? Still, you won’t care about dubious decisions or glaring inconsistencies once Aja has you in his compact, ever-tightening grip. Crawl is a mean, efficient thriller with teeth.
Photographs from Paramount Pictures Corporation