All Gator, No Filler [review]

Commentary, Film and Television

Sam Raimi-produced Crawl is the alligator home invasion movie you didn’t know you needed.

As the movie begins, a hurricane is brewing over Florida and competitive swimmer Haley Keller is worried that her father has ignored the evacuation order. Heedless of official warnings and the growing intensity of the storm, she rushes home to find him unconscious in the basement, boasting a broken leg and a bite mark.

From the moment Haley realizes her and her father aren’t alone in the house, Crawl is non-stop alligator action, with the characters struggling to escape their rapidly flooding basement while unfortunate looters and first responders get gobbled up outside.

Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) knows how to make a horror movie, and is no stranger to aquatic creature features: his 2010 gorefest Piranha 3D was a brutal horror comedy with some genuinely disturbing moments underneath its campy surface. With Crawl, he foregoes irony altogether, producing a stripped-to-the-bone masterpiece of suspense.

The alligators are incredibly strong, cracking limbs like twigs between their jaws; they’re also fast, moving like shots of lighting through the floodwaters. Equally dangerous are the vicious waves that smash windows and rip buildings apart, dispelling any hope the characters might have of seeking shelter and waiting it out. The hurricane is rendered realistically and somewhat beautifully, with swirling grey clouds forming surreal landscapes in the sky as torrential rains transform suburban communities into lakes. (I have a thing for CGI water).

Another thing I liked about Crawl is that it doesn’t rely on the stupidity of its characters to move the plot forward. Sure, it was recklessness that got Haley and her father into their predicament, but not the type of out-of-character foolhardiness that strains credulity. Stubborn and perhaps a little depressed, Dave Keller is exactly the type of person who would refuse to evacuate his family home during a hurricane, and strong-willed athlete Haley is exactly the type drive past a police barricade to rescue a loved one.

There are elements of family drama here (Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper have compelling chemistry as a daughter and father who are too much alike to get along a lot of the time), but at its heart, Crawl is a movie about immoveable objects facing an unstoppable force. Even in the midst of extreme terror, its heroes are self-possessed and resourceful, binding their wounds with makeshift splints and tourniquets while strategically plotting their escape. The occasional missteps are due to misfortune rather than incompetence (at one point, they manage to flee in a stolen motorboat only to have a massive wave whisk them right back into the house).

Haley and Dave are hyper-competent, but they never make survival look easy. Aja puts them through the wringer, both emotionally and physically, always emphasizing their unstable environment (the house could literally collapse around them any moment) and debilitating injuries. He doesn’t water down the violence, either; the audience is treated to plenty of graphic scenes of nasty cuts and snapping bones.

The plot moves as relentlessly as the floodwaters, the tension never lagging until it reaches its immensely satisfying conclusion.

Title: Crawl

Director: Alexandre Aja

Screenwriters: Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen

Year: 2019

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