While aquatic horror can be fun any time of the year, there’s just something about a genre movie that pits human characters versus nature’s greatest water-bound predators during these warmer months that really puts me into the summertime mood. And with that in mind, you could say that I was already primed to enjoy Crawl even before the first bloodthirsty alligator snapped into action. Director Alexandre Aja, who already has some experience in this realm with his gore-tastic horror comedy Piranha 3D, proves here yet again that he’s a master manipulator of heightened tension and thrills, but he also delivers up a no-nonsense disaster/killer animal mash-up that doesn’t waste a single minute of its efficient 87-minute running time, and even gives us compelling characters (plus Sugar the dog!) that we give a damn about to boot.
Written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, Crawl transports us to Florida as an impending Category 5 hurricane is approaching the state, putting everyone in its path in mortal danger. With the storm getting closer and closer, college student Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) realizes that she hasn’t heard from her estranged father, Dave (Barry Pepper), and sets out to make sure that he’s out of harm’s way. But when she tracks him down to their old family home, she sees that he’s been attacked, and the pair find themselves trapped inside their old homestead by several alligators, who continue to stalk them as the horrendous storm outside continues to do its worst.
Crawl, as a whole, is a pretty straightforward effort mostly driven by the characters doing their best to survive against insurmountable odds, and things just keep getting worse and worse as this devastating hurricane barrels down on them from start to finish. The gator-centric elements of Crawl already provided enough fodder to keep audiences brimming with anxiety, but when you add Mother Nature into the equation, the results are quite distressing, yet entertaining as all hell. I must admit that very little gets under my skin as a viewer these days, but there were several moments during Crawl that caught me off guard and rattled my nerves a bit (in a good way).
Even though there are moments in Crawl that feel a bit silly (not in a Sharknado type of way, though), as a whole, Aja and the writers play things straight here, where the threats are very real and very grounded, and that adds so much to the movie’s palpable sense of tension. Something else I really appreciated about Crawl was the fact that we haven’t really seen movies like this hit the big screen as of late, so the film feels like a breath of fresh air in relation to so many other genre projects that have played theatrically over the last year.
On a technical level, there’s so much ambition onscreen throughout Crawl. I have to commend Aja for not only taking on the water-logged project that continues to get more harrowing throughout the course of the film, but the way that the animatronic gators blend with the digital creatures here is nearly flawless, and shows just how well practical and digital effects can work together in instances like these. There’s also a lot of underwater cinematography at play in Crawl and the way that DP Maxime Alexandre (who previously worked with Aja on High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes remake, as well as a ton of other genre movies: P2, Mirrors, The Crazies and Maniac remakes, as well as The Voices, to name a few) immerses us alongside the characters in Crawl is spectacularly done, which adds so much to the film overall.
It would have been so easy for Crawl to end up drifting into the territory of the creature-driven Syfy Originals of yesteryear (don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those movies, but just for different reasons than I enjoy films like The Shallows or Anaconda, for example), but with Aja at the helm, Crawl is an action-packed thriller that has something of a nasty bite to it at times and the performances from both Scodelario and Pepper add so much to the story as well. Without a doubt, Crawl is something genre fans are going to want to experience on the big screen, and I’m excited to see it again this weekend in a (hopefully) packed theater.
Movie Score: 4/5
[Photo credit: Above photo by Sergej Radovic.]