In Crawl, we are introduced to Hayley (Kaya Scodelario), a talented competitive swimmer who always seems to come up short in meets. When a catastrophic hurricane approaches, she goes to find her dad (Barry Pepper), who has retreated to their old family home in a state of nostalgic depression, and hasn’t been responding to her calls. She finds him lying in the crawlspace, having been wounded. The cause of his injury is soon revealed to be a large alligator, and they realize that they are trapped in the crawlspace with it. With the storm intensifying, the water rising, an increasing number of gators, and some still yet unresolved tension between the two of them, Hayley and her father must fight to survive.
Horror movies about killer alligators or crocodiles are hardly scarce, but good ones certainly are. I’d recommend Lewis Teague’s Alligator or Greg McLean’s Rogue if you are in search of such a film. And having seen Crawl, it is most certainly going on that list. This movie was awesome! It was produced by Sam Raimi (one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, especially his horror stuff) and directed by Alexandre Aja (who directed the surprisingly impressive remake of The Hills Have Eyes). Both of these guys know how to make fun, fearless, and totally bonkers horror movies, and Crawl is further proof of that. I often found myself truly on the edge of my seat, and yet at other times, I was cackling at the sheer insanity of it all, and I think that’s exactly the reaction the film wants.
When a film is lead, primarily, by only two characters, it’s imperative that they be played by capable actors, and our two leads are certainly up to the task. Barry Pepper is one of those character actors that has been in all kinds of movies, from The Green Mile to True Grit, but he has yet to become a household name. I’ve always liked him, and he is really good in this one. Kaya Scodelario is a relative unknown, but she proves here that she’s capable of leading a movie. I’d be interested in seeing more from her in the future. Now, while there are a few well-performed dramatic moments, this isn’t really an actor-driven film. It’s not written to be a vehicle for Oscar nominations. The characters are there to serve the story, and the cast succeeds in making the most of what they are given.
But of course, we know why you’re really here, and the film does, too: the carnage. In a monster movie like this one, it’s mostly about the destruction and the kills. Crawl delivers on this in spades. To say nothing of the damage done by the hurricane itself, we get plenty of gator-chomping action. What’s impressive and commendable is that, even though the film is mainly about the gore (which is glorious), as is the custom with movies like this, Aja actually takes the time build legitimate suspense before each scare. I really admired that about this one. There is also a fair amount of black humor in the film, which assured the audience not to take it too seriously. This is essentially Murphy’s Law: The Movie. Just about everything that could go wrong does go wrong, and it just gets crazier and crazier.
Now there is one element that is a bit trickier, and it might divide some audiences, and that is the visual effects. The alligators in the film are entirely CGI, which is to be expected, but the effects can’t simply be categorized as either good or bad. The alligators are incredibly detailed, and it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into the creature effects. However, there’s a big difference between looking real and looking realistic, and the gators here fall squarely into the latter. While they may be photorealistic, they don’t exactly look like they are right there with the real-life actors. And yet, it actually doesn’t really affect the film. Why? Because the threat still feels real. It’s truly a testament to Aja’s direction that he is able to create a sense of genuine dread with entirely CG attackers. Even when the alligators don’t feel real, the danger does, so it never really becomes a hindrance.
Crawl is the perfect example of how to do a true creature feature properly. Alexandre Aja has somehow managed to create some truly palpable terror amidst the enjoyably gruesome monster mayhem. It’s a wickedly fun ride, and it’s one of the better killer animal movies of the past decade.