CRAWL

There are two very limited horror/thriller subgenres that I love and those are the “killer animal/monster” genre and the “person/people trapped in one location and trying to survive” genre, but they’re not often combined. A majority of horror films back in the day fell into the B-movie category and some filmmakers ended up owning that attitude and made it their brand with an intelligent amount of self-awareness. Sam Raimi is such a filmmaker and while he unfortunately doesn’t step behind the camera as much as he should anymore, he still loves his B-movie schlock and is more than happy to produce it and usually with great talent involved. 

Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is a college student and swimmer, living in Florida as a massive Category 5 hurricane approaches. Desperate to find her father Dave (Barry Pepper), who has been out of contact, she heads into the midst of the storm and to her old family home to save him. Finding him trapped and injured in the Crawl space, he tells her there are vicious alligators surrounding them and they’re ready to feast. In order to get help and escape, Haley makes her way throughout the crawl space as it slowly floods and the gators come at her at every turn. 

So, do alligators actually relentlessly attack and hunt humans to dine on them? Well, according to some quick research, of course they don’t’! But that’s not why we’re here, right? We’re here to see alligators tear people to shreds and you get it in spades here! It’s not the 70’s when Jaws came out anymore, when people were killing great whites out of some misplaced fear. We’re in the information and environmental age, so the margin of people being convinced by these films that these animals will actually be this dangerous is very slim. So, bring on the alligator action! These alligators just want to chow down on humans at all costs, trying to break through lines of pipes just to get to them and even tricking them into coming right into their paths. They also play and toy with their prey, such as a hilarious sequence where one hapless human gets thrown up against a window over and over, spraying blood all over it. They’re obviously more vicious than a real gator, but screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen incorporated some actual natural aspects of the animal, such as the use of the death roll and Haley being spooked by a floating log at one point. The gators have a lot of personality, and while their CGI is a bit shoddy at times, it just added to that B-movie charm. 

All of this schlocky gator excellence is thanks to the talented direction from Alexandre Aja. He’s a guy who just understands B-movie horror, but also knows how to make a decent film. He showed a bit more grounded, dramatic chops with Horns, which I liked, but I feel he shines more with more over-the-top, sillier material. Piranha 3D is an absolutely trashterpiece with an absurd amount of gore, nudity, awful dialogue, and cheesy performances. However, it knows exactly what it is and is a 100% rollicking good time from start to finish. You can tell he grew up watching these kinds of movies growing up and he knows exactly what made them work for him. He brings that to the table with his films, but with the perfect amount of self-awareness. This is nowhere as trashy as The Hills Have Eyes (2006) or Piranha 3D, but it’s still deliciously entertaining. He also sets an excellent atmosphere with the hurricane, with constantly cloudy skies, roaring winds, and pounding rain. With that and the alligators, it all feels so hopeless. Even then, this is still a killer alligator movie. Aja and Michael and Shawn Rasmussen knew exactly what kind of movie they wanted to make and made it, but there’s still so much effort involved. 

While, yeah, the plot of the film is Haley and Dave being stalked by a horde of alligators in a flooding house, the story is about their strained father-daughter relationship and how they get passed that to work together and survive. The killer animal/monster films always have some attempt at an emotional core to make you care about the characters, but unlike most, it actually works here. There’s definitely much more time developed to the sweet gator-ness, but their relationship felt fleshed out enough, with a natural use of exposition and flashbacks. I did find the ending a bit anticlimactic, but the fact that it paid off the story and Haley’s character in such a satisfying way more than made up for it. Her being a swimmer felt like a natural aspect to her character and it adds to the realism of overcoming these situations. Scodelario and Pepper have perfectly natural chemistry with each other, and what I loved even more was how clearly committed to the project they were. After the first 15 minutes or so, these characters are constantly in the water, getting rained on, and when they do get any sort of solid ground, trudging through the muck. There are some bit characters who do a good job fleshing out their small roles, but they at least get rain coats and hats. Scodelario and Pepper are just in t-shirts and jeans, with Scodelario being barefoot at points. It seemed like a very miserable, constantly wet shoot, but the actors were more than committed to do it and they pulled it off. Aside from the occasionally spotty effects, it all felt so real. 

With Crawl, I got all of the alligator munching goodness that I wanted, but I also got a decent story with some excellent, committed performances to actually make for a great film. It’s a perfect storm (no pun intended, seriously) of talented people who cared about making the project they knew they wanted to make and it couldn’t have turned out better. If a Syfy Original Movies had a budgets and brains, this is exactly what they would be. An apex predator, if I ever saw. 

9/10

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