In a summer filled with big, bloated, glossy blockbuster reboots and sequels, we have a small summer movie making its debut in Crawl.
Sandwiched between two Disney juggernauts in Spider-Man: Far From Home and the CGI remake of The Lion King, Crawl is the anthesis of what the summer has to offer. Oh sure, it is a movie filled with visual effects, but instead of being a remake or a sequel, Crawl is a contained ninety-minute, R-rated survival creature feature. The film stands purely on its own.
Crawl is a solid and creative high-concept horror movie that maybe doesn’t quite reach its full potential, but still makes for a fun experience.
Crawl has a simple premise. A category five hurricane slams into Florida forcing everyone to flee for safety. Ignoring the storm warning, a young woman named Haley (played by Moon and Maze Runner actress Kaya Scodelario) travels deep into the storm to find her estranged father (Barry Pepper).
Finding him passed out in a storm cellar and badly injured, she attempts to pull him out, only to find herself trapped and surrounded by alligators. The storm is only getting stronger. The basement starts to flood and more alligators start to enter the area as the two family members have to try to survive.
Crawl plays like a cross between Jaws, A Quiet Place and Don’t Breathe (another Sam Rami produced feature). The film, running at ninety minutes, doesn’t waste much time jumping into the premise. After quickly establishing our main protagonist and the character dynamics, the film’s plot gets kicked into high gear and hardly ever lets up.
Crawl is layered with one tense and close call after another. It’s a claustrophobic horror-thriller through and through, only pausing to reset the stakes or bring the estranged family members together.
The story between father and daughter is mostly melodrama, but it oddly enough works. The emotional beats between the two characters (while far and few between) are effective and makes them worth rooting for.
See It…Before You Go Swimming
Make no mistake, this is a movie designed to make you feel tense and bite your nails. For the most part, you are going to get what you came for. Crawl is an ever growing and escalating set of circumstances. Some of it will test your suspension of disbelief, but if the movie is making your stomach filled with butterflies should we really complain about realism?
What makes a movie like this able to avoid being boring or repetitive is a shifting goal or circumstance in the action scenes. Sure there are plenty of scenes of alligators attacking, but they rarely happen the same way twice and the film even finds some clever ways of integrating some other characters into this situation.
There is an almost “video game like” design to this movie where a task has to be completed before the characters can move onto the next section of the house. Even though the film is contained in mostly one location, the characters don’t feel stuck or passive, they are active and fully functional.
Also, unlike other recent “creature survival water based movies” (is that a genre?) like The Shallows or Shark Night 3D, Aja isn’t afraid to fill the screen with gore and violent deaths, giving Crawl an edge that many similar style films simply don’t have.
Not Everything Floats
Still, for as strong of a command of horror and thriller visual language that Aja presents, he does miss a few opportunities.
For as exciting as this movie is, there were moments where I felt Aja doesn’t play with us enough. A lot of that stems from his ability to shove alligators into the frame whenever he wants. We see the alligators a bit too much; for some of the underwater scenes, I couldn’t help but think about how much scarier would this be if I didn’t know where the alligator was?
Can we get a little suspense?!
Every film fan knows the legends of Jaws‘s disastrous production. The film was overbudget and worst of all the shark didn’t work, forcing the young Steven Spielberg to get creative. We don’t see the shark because the shark didn’t work and because of that the movie was far scarier as a result.
I’m not saying Aja shouldn’t show the alligators at all, but there were one too many scenes where seeing CGI alligators did nothing for me as a viewer. Had he removed the alligator from the frame I would be have been on the edge of my seat, trembling out of fear for when it would pop up.
Speaking of CGI, The most surprising aspect of the movie is the visuals. Crawl, at a budget of $13.5 million, it’s surprising just how good the movie looks. A lot of that has to do with Aja’s direction. The film feels gritty and real, but it doesn’t feel that heavily rooted in realism.
Visually, the movie is quite stylized with the frame projecting dark greens and blues and the right shades of grey. The sky doesn’t look exactly how a hurricane looks, but it feels forboding which adds a strong sense of dread to the atmosphere.
The alligators themselves look good as well. For a $13.5 million dollar film, you would expect the CG to look cheap, but Aja knew how to properly light and style to work with his film thematically.
He adds other nice touches like the way he has light reflect off the running water onto the character’s faces. There is an odd sense of beauty here that is trapped under a movie that feels grimy and painful.
Getting Out of the Water
Crawl is a movie that I was looking forward too and wasn’t disappointed in. The movie is fun, knows what it is and has the right amount of cheese, seriousness, and melodrama to make this B-movie work.
It doesn’t reach its full potential by not restraining when it needs to be restrained and the bloody horror fan in me wanted one or two more gruesome kills. The kills we get are memorable and it’s refreshing to watch a high concept summer film that isn’t trying to be the next MCU or Dark Universe.
Movies like Crawl rely on the strengths and creativity of their filmmaker and for whatever shortcomings this movie does have, Aja gives it his all and that passion is felt throughout.