I’m a huge sucker for creature features. Whether it’s a giant shark or swarm of killer bees, I’ve always been infatuated with this horror genre. Yet, there is a fine line between a genuinely terrifying monster movie and B-movie schlock typically reserved for late nights on the Syfy channel. Director Alexandre Aja’s Crawl falls somewhere awkwardly in between making for a fun but inconsistent experience.
Crawl takes place in Flordia during a Category 5 hurricane with accomplished college swimmer Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) and her estranged father Dave Keller (Barry Pepper) trapped in their old home. Their situation goes from bad to worse when the duo discovers a group of very big, very angry alligators patrolling the flooded streets and their home. Trapped in their basement, the two must figure out a way to escape without becoming gator food.
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At its core, Crawl is a survival film that pits man versus beast. Watching the duo battle against a horde of alligators is quite entertaining. Aja does a terrific job making these reptiles even more terrifying than they already are. A lot of this is thanks to the terrific sound design that never allows viewers to feel truly safe. You can always hear their rumblings as our protagonists skulk through the water, enhancing the danger and tension in every scene.
It also helps that Aja goes for the gold when it comes to blood and gore. The kills are visceral, with limbs and blood splattering all over the place. While there aren’t a ton of deaths, Aja finds some unsettling ways of displaying the brutality of battling against hordes of alligators. There are plenty of moments that will make you wince, especially once the film kicks into the third act. Aja’s previous work on The Hills Have Eyes has really helped him learn how to frame and portray violence in a stylish, yet uncompromising way.
A lot of this is thanks to Aja’s choice not to frame the alligators as anything special or mutated. There’s no secret lab or magical space rock that has mutated these beasts. Instead, these are just hungry reptiles that found a free meal. This helps ground the film and its violence but comes at the cost of hampering the ending. It’s not that Haley’s fight against the alligators isn’t compelling, but the movie just abruptly ends. With no big “core villain” or specific alligator standing between them, Crawl just meanders into its ending.
Thankfully, both Scodelario and Pepper give fantastic performances the elevates the material. The two have terrific chemistry, which helps make their relationship feel real. Crawl tries to jam a lot of dramatic, character building moments into a few scenes so it helps that the actors are able to sell the material. We aren’t given a lot of exposition, so the audience has to rely on the emotional moment to moment action. Even though Pepper is playing the thankless role of the father clinging on the past, he commits to every scene he’s in.
Where the film stumbles is in how it develops the two’s relationship with one another. Crawl is a very lean, fast-paced movie so there is virtually no downtime throughout. This gives a nice sense of urgency, but at the expense of developing its characters. Haley has an older sister which promptly appears and vanishes. You can tell there relationships strained, but we only get the smallest explanation as to why. This is immensely frustrating since all of the performances are great, but the material doesn’t give them a chance to breathe.
Crawl also sets up a few, predictable kills that are solely there to see the gators rip people apart. This is great for people only going for the gore, but it saps any scares or surprises that Crawl has up its sleeve. The movie has obvious disposable characters and prioritizes the carnage over enhancing the drama. It’s an odd choice since Crawl is at its best when the duo is trapped in the basement with a few alligators. Watching the duo attempt to navigate through a claustrophobic environment delivers some of the best moments in the movie.
If you’re looking for a movie about big alligators eating people in terrifyingly gory ways then Crawl will be right up your alley. However, due to the movie taking itself so seriously, it fails to stick any of the heavy, dramatic moments. Even with two great performances, it’s not enough to save the movie’s weak script and dialogue. This doesn’t make Crawl a slog to watch, but it hardly rises above other movies in this genre. It’s a serviceable horror movie about scary alligators that will make for some great, late night viewings.