In less than 90 minutes, Paramount Pictures has made a better film with Crawl than every single one of those dumb monster/shark/creature movies on the Syfy Channel combined.
And all they had to do was take themselves semi-seriously.
Crawl is a new creature-feature from The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D and The 9th Life of Louis Drax (literally nobody except me saw that movie, even though it’s actually pretty good) director Alexandre Aja and Evil Dead producer Sam Raimi.
In a nutshell, Crawl is a movie about a bunch of giant alligators that are trying to eat a couple of sorry souls during the middle of a hurricane. And that’s it. That right there is the whole pitch.
See how easy that was? Are you taking notes, Sharknado?
Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), have somewhat of a strained relationship. The two of them used to be really close during Haley’s childhood, with Dave having trained her in numerous swimming competitions and tournaments. That connection has kind of died out as they grow older, however, with Haley having gone off to college and Dave remaining in his home down in southern Florida.
However, when a Category 5 hurricane comes sweeping through Dave’s hometown, Haley feels obliged to go check on his father given that he’s now divorced and lives alone.
Returning to her hometown with her dog, Sugar (yes, they really throw a poor doggo in the middle of all of this), Haley is shocked to find her father passed out in the crawlspace underneath their old house.
Not knowing what’s wrong or how this happened, she struggles to pull him back into the garage before the basement begins to floods…which is precisely when she notices the giant pair of red eyes staring at her through the darkness.
That realization is followed by panic as those eyes belong to a giant alligator who promptly comes running out of the shadows to devour the two of them.
While the two of them are able to dive under some pipes for safety and Haley is able to wake her father up, they quickly realized that they’re trapped down here — not just by one alligator, but by a whole family that has set up their nest in a nearby drainage sewer.
I don’t know anything about reptiles and I realize this isn’t the point of the movie, but do alligators REALLY set up nests and lay eggs that quickly? Like, we’re led to believe this hurricane is just beginning (we see people still evacuating), meaning the alligators would have just gotten there. I have a few questions, to say the least.
Nevertheless, Haley and Dave then have to find a way to get past the beasts and escape the crawlspace, and they have to do it quickly because the whole thing is going flood in less than an hour.
Yes, Murphy’s Law is definitely at play with this one.
Crawl, as you’ve most likely gathered by now, is a pretty simple movie. We’re not doing anything super elaborate or re-invent any ideas, here. From what I gather, it seems like Aja just had an idea for a movie he thought would be fun and then went forward with the whole thing.
The result is something that is, again, simple but effective. You can’t really critique Crawl for being anything that it’s not in the same way you couldn’t critique Skyscraper for being anything but an implausible but effective action movie — yet, there’s certainly a whole lot you can admire about it.
The thing people don’t realize about films like Crawl or Skyscraper is that there is still a right and wrong way to make these movies. You have to find that right balance of seriousness, fun and camp if you want it to hit with audiences, which we’ve seen so, so many films do wrong in the past.
I’m not going to say that Crawl is the new prototype how to make a movie based on a silly premise, but it still is a pretty damn good example.
First off, I really enjoyed the production design and scares that Crawl delivered on. Sure, there’s not a whole lot to the story, but Aja really spends a lot of time developing the setting, the stakes and the creature design, all of which give Crawl some of the dramatic weight it needed.
The majority of this movie does indeed take inside this one basement — there are a few other characters were introduced to along the way, but most of them get gobbled up pretty quick. Aja really mines that location for all it’s worth, though, as he finds new scenarios that deliver bloody surprise after bloody surprise.
That’s pretty intense, too! You might not have known you were scared of alligators before watching Crawl, but this might have you think twice when you see one of those ‘beware of the gators’ signs down south similar to the way Jaws had people back away from swimming in public beaches.
What also greatly helps Crawl move along is the connection between Haley and Dave. Now, this isn’t Leave No Trace where we spend the whole film examining how complicated father-daughter relationships can be, but it still is something that’s ultimately explored throughout Crawl and it does eventually lead to a pretty emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Granted, some of that is undercut by the fact that Barry Pepper makes terrible decision after terrible decision (it’s still a good performance by Pepper, as is Scodelario’s) but I digress.
There was one thing that really did bother me about this film, and that came from Scodelario’s character arch. Crawl does that thing that’s always bothered me in movies where they introduce something that the main character is trying to do/get better at in the first act and then work it into the climax during the third act. Now, this isn’t nearly as an egregious of an example of this as we saw in Bumblebee with Hailee Steinfeld’s character (even though that movie also remains to be pretty good), but it does feel contrived and somewhat annoying.
Despite those takeaways, Crawl ultimately winds up being the movie that I had hoped The Meg was going to be. It’s quick, it’s effective and it’s fun. It also represents good diversity within the horror genre. Playing in theaters at this moment, there’s a big crowd-pleaser with Annabelle Comes Home, a quirky indie-pick with Midsommar and now a monster survival film. The more diverse horror becomes, the more all of us fans win — so, please, keep making more movies similar to this!
Watch the trailer for Crawl here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!