Movie review: 'Crawl' raises the bar for alligator films

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 13 2019 03:59 PM

Like there had been a number of horror films about man-eating sharks, there had also been a good number of films where it was alligators or crocodiles terrorizing humans. 

Perhaps the best remembered of these had been "Alligator" (Lewis Teague, 1980), "Lake Placid" (Steve Miner, 1999), "Black Water" (David Nerlich, 2007), and "Rogue" (Greg McLean, 2007). They are reviving this sub-genre of creature film again this year with "Crawl."

Collegiate varsity swimmer Haley Keller defied warnings of a Category 5 hurricane in the state of Florida to search for her father in their old house in Coral Lake. With the help of their faithful pet dog Sugar, Haley found her dad Dave injured on the floor of the crawl space under the house. 

However, before she can get her father up into the house, a pair of hungry alligators appeared and attacked them. They had to scramble to the safety of a tight space where gators can't fit. Trapped with nowhere else to go, they need to figure out how to get out to safety before the flood waters come in to drown them.

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The story was actually a very simple one. A daughter trying to save her father from the natural calamity, but to make things so much worse -- hungry predatory reptiles crawled and swam where they needed to go. The two must rely on their wits, resourcefulness, physical abilities, and resistance to pain to be able to get themselves out of danger. As they faced their common ordeal together, father and daughter got to rekindle their close relationship.

This film was practically a two-hander starring Kaya Scodelario (as Haley) and Barry Pepper (as her dad Dave). They were so committed to their never-say-die roles, even if the things they were doing were already beyond normal human capabilities given their situations and their injuries. The rest of the cast were practically just fodder for the gators to gobble up before setting up for the climactic battle of the Kellers versus the beasts.

Director Alexandre Aja is known for his B-grade gory horror films like "The Hills Have Eyes" (2006), and "Piranha 3D" (2010). For the claustrophobic horror of "Crawl," he cranked up the frightening tension caused by those insatiable alligators attacking and eating anything that moved. Aja had all sorts of exciting permutations on how gators would attack the humans and had all the best ideas for angles for effective shocks and scares. 

How "The Shallows" (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2016) raised the bar again for the shark films, "Crawl" did for the alligator films. Yes, irrational humans and alligator behavior notwithstanding, "Crawl" certainly turned out much better than I initially expected going in. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."