Crawl is the latest Action/Horror film from Writer/Director, Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D) and Co-Writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (The Ward). Crawl is a confined creature feature horror film that centers around Dave Keller (played by Barry Pepper) and his daughter Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a talented swimmer. The pair become trapped in the crawlspace of their old family home during a Category 5 hurricane. It’s only the first of their problems though, as they discover that alligators are circling the waters and there’s no way of escape. The film also stars Ross Anderson and Morfydd Clark.
Crawl is one of a number of those lesser-known ventures of 2019 that I’ve been looking forward to for several months now, and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch it on release day. French-born Aja has long known about the inner-workings of the genre and its subsequent sub-genres ever since his effective, but largely flawed, debut genre film “High Tension”. It wasn’t until his 06′ remake of Wes Craven’s “Hills Have Eyes”, a film about a macabre family of crazy cannibals, that he really found his footing. Since that time, he’s made another four features, of which include the glorious b-movie fun that was “Piranha 3D”, as well as having lent his experience to underrated films like “P2” and the remake of William Lustig’s “Maniac”. Crawl serves as his first feature in over three years and it’s a truly impressive return to the fold. If you were worried that all the best bits were spoilt in the trailer, you can rest easy, because such is not the case. Aja’s always been one to call for attention to detail in all facets of his work, and Crawl is no exception. There’s no sense on any level that anyone involved in his projects is phoning it in or resting on the supposed inferior laurels of the genre. Aja’s long-time cinematographer Maxime Alexandre provides an energetic presentation that often sees him right in the thick of the action. Furthermore, he makes the most of the green but mushy Florida landscape with some superb plates for all the heavy visual effects components to encompass. In a perfect world, one where the academy respected not only the genre but those working on a smaller budget (albeit $15 million plus), both the score and the sound design would receive the highest of accolades come award season.
Max Aruj and Steffen Thum combine for a fierce bass driven score that evokes the eerie tones from the likes of John Williams (Jaws) and Howard Shore (Panic Room). The foley and sound design is extremely layered and hoists the atmosphere to new heights, leading you into what you think is a false sense of security but not hitting you with the payoff until after you’ve anticipated it doing so. Aja has complete control over the pacing, building tension for a majority of the run time and understanding the appropriate time to hit the inevitable panic button. Whilst some of the characterization has been stronger in his other films, Scodelario and Pepper, and in turn, their characters, hold the drama of this survival piece together quite nicely. We get sufficient insight into how their relationship has fractured with time, and the pressures placed upon Haley to be the best she can be at her craft have proven to be the catalyst in that. The set design of this forgotten little province surrounded by swamp is impeccable. The home itself has character, the gas station adds a touch of “Twister” to proceedings and the sheer logistics of shooting in this environment should be marveled at. The standard of CG is genuinely impressive and much higher than one might expect from what could easily be described as a b-movie. Let’s just say it’s got more in common with something like “The Shallows” than it does with the “Sharknado” franchise. The Gators themselves are introduced in a realistic and scary fashion and their movements never seem contrived. Crawl isn’t necessarily the bloodbath we’ve come to expect from the French filmmaker, but there’s still a body count on display and a number of really entertaining sequences. The practical blood and gore fx are there but the enjoyment comes in the pressure that first indicates to it.
Crawl is somewhat on the predictable side, but at the very least, it might just be one of the first of its kind where I haven’t found myself questioning the main character’s decision making somewhere along the line (or everywhere). If I’m being nitpicky though, I’d say that at some point Haley should have shown a little more concern for her safety regarding the evergrowing threat of the storm. She’s pretty relaxed as the chunk of a tree comes flying through the window… I’d like to have seen one of the alligators appear out of the water as well, even if just to add a few more moments of suspense when the characters think they’re safe (as alligators don’t have to be in the water at all times to survive). Not all of the Rasmussen’s dialogue makes a lot of sense either. There’s a number of interactions that don’t quite add up where characters are guilty of simply stating the obvious e.g, Haley tells her dad to stay where he is when he physically can’t go anywhere else. It’s also mind-boggling how anyone would be surprised that they couldn’t drive out of a hurricane after everything they’ve witnessed prior. Something so stupid wouldn’t even be suggested in that given situation. It would have been nice to see a couple of the law enforcement members aware a little more of their surroundings too- I suppose they made for good meat fodder all the same.
As far as intentions go, I think Crawl did exactly what it set out to do – thoroughly entertain. I rode every snarl, each bang of the pipes, and all the breaks and cracks of flesh and bone. Horror scenes don’t come much more frightening than the one here when the water rises to such heights that Haley can’t see what’s underneath her. It’s a film that occupies that familiar b-movie creature feature ground of “Deep Blue Sea”, but manages to elevate itself by hitting the tonal beats and rhythms of something superior like “Don’t Breath” instead of otherwise being relegated to bland or common status. Aja engages the viewer with style, suspense, and an all too real danger. The cinematography looks great, the score and sound design are intense, and it’s great to see Barry Pepper back on the big screen doing his thing with ease. In addition, this is the second performance this year of Kaya Scodelario’s that I’ve really enjoyed (the first being in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile), that and her on-screen time with “Sugar”, the adorable dog, couldn’t help but put a smile on my face. The VFX are consistently good and the action is engaging as I’ve seen in a long while. Chunks of the dialogue are guilty of leading nowhere and the characters are simple in their construct. I could have gone in for a little more gore, that and it’s undeniably a pretty predictable finish, but those weren’t things I wasn’t already prepared for. All in all, If you like Alexandre Aja’s films or you’re a fan of slick creature features then look no further than Crawl. This is one of the best of its kind and you can check out the official trailer below! The film is now showing in theaters.
My rating for “Crawl” is 7.5/10