Crawl (2019) Review

A SURPRISING GATOR TERROR FLICK


 

While the horror genre has boasted bountiful delight of bloody slashers, psychological thrillers, and paranormal supernaturalism, the usage of animal predators has been known and utilized in various formats and presentation throughout the years. While not exclusively to the horror genre (a combination with another genre), most of these creature predators-centric movies have commonly used deadly apex animals and go on a frenzy (of sorts) as they humans have attempt to thwart the beasts and survive their oncoming onslaught. Such famous movies of this variety include Jaws, Anaconda, Lake Placid, Deep Blue Sea, and most recently The Meg. Now, Paramount Pictures and director Alexandre Aja present the latest animal predator feature film with the released of 2019’s Crawl. Does this swim to safe or does it sink within its own torrential cinematic waters?

THE STORY


A college swimmer struggling with performance issues, Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is trying reach out to her estranged father, Dave (Barry Pepper), as a Category 5 Hurricane is about to make landfall across Florida, battering the state with torrential rainfall and strong gale force winds. Ignoring police orders to stay away from the disastrous area, Haley makes her way to Dave’s home, joined by the family dog, Sugar. Unable to immediately locate her dad, Haley follows clues into the crawlspace underneath the house, entering a filthy area of darkness and mirk, with a wind-up flashlight to banish the shadows and small critters therein. Just as Haley finds her add, she discovers that a pair of alligators are also residing in the tight location, having already attacked her father, who’s struggling with several wounds and broken bones. As the weather intensifies, the water level rises within the crawlspace, which forces Haley to figure out an escape plan. However, as the hours pass by, the gates grow more and more reckless, getting bolder with their attacks, using the violent confusion of the hurricane’s storm to their advantage.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Looking beyond the supernatural ghouls and blade-wielding psychopaths, apex animal predators often do make for some frightening adversaries in these type of horror / survival movies. Of course, while reptilian ones are often to be worth antagonist for movie’s characters to fight against (i.e. Anaconda), aquatic predators to produce some of the more highly dangerous ones. To me, Sharks are some of the scary baddies in cinematic history. Heck, even in real life. When I was younger, I was always afraid of going into the ocean in fear of a Shark getting me (even though there probably wasn’t anyone around for miles at my nearby beach). Thus, movies like Jaws, The Meg, The Shallows, and 47 Meters Down definitely creepy me out a little because of the involvement with apex predator sharks. Perhaps another would be alligators or crocodiles, whichever one you like, as there’s something about that “irks” me.

2019’s Crawl is the latest feature to tackle / present a movie’s narrative within this predator antagonist identity, especially one that involves alligators. Personally, I really didn’t hear much about this movie during its pre-release as there wasn’t a whole lot of “internet buzz” flying around about it, which was probably mostly due to the film’s low-budget production and low-key marketing planning. The very first time I did hear about the movie was when I went to local theater (during my weekly trip there) and saw the movie trailer for Crawl. To me, it looked like a throwaway B-movie type thing…. something that kind of remind me of 2018’s Hurricane Heist (a movie that was ridiculously stupid and bad). However, at the very least, Crawl looked to be more of decent / effective effort as a feature film endeavor. So, I decided to check out the movie and to see if I thought on it were true. Well….were they? Surprisingly, it was actually better than what I was expecting. Despite some few minor problems / nuances, Crawl does make for a very satisfying horror-ish / survival that works with tense-filled scenario and solid performances from its cast. It’s not exactly original, but it’s definitely better than what I’ve seeing of late; sinking its teeth into its cinematic situation rather than bloating its experience.

Crawl is directed by Alexandra Aja, whose previous directorial works includes such movies like The Hills Have Eyes, Horns, and Piranha 3D. Given his past experience of the horror variety, Aja seems like a suitable choice in helming a project such as Crawl, utilizing his tense horror filmmaking skills in approaching this endeavor. To his credit, Aja succeeds by making Crawl to be a very evenly paced survival movie. With the film’s runtime last roughly 87, Aja keeps everything moving at a brisk pace (in a good way); shaping the feature around the main narrative of events (i.e. Haley and Dave surviving a gator infested crawlspace and the torrential hurricane presence that rages outside). Aja utilizes that knowledge and makes a lot of the movie’s sequences to be quite tense filled and a little bit scary / horror-ish feeling throughout some of its scenes. Parts of this relies on the very nature / setting of Crawl, with the crawlspace area underneath the Keller’s old house to be dark, dank, and quite enclosed; given off a claustrophobic nuance throughout. This, of course, makes the film’s “gator attack” scenes to be more crucial and more suspenseful as well as the raging Hurricane storm outside (with a deluge of water everywhere). Thus, Aja keeps the movie in a fun survival mode, which makes for plenty of entertainment in watching Crawl.

Additionally, the film’s script, which was penned by Michael and Sean Rasmussen, also keeps Crawl’s narrative focuses on what is important and rarely leaves the characters of Haley or Dave. Furthermore, the script never feels bloated with unnecessary characters / scenes that aren’t vital to the story being told. What do I mean? Well, with the category 5 hurricane acting as an impending doom / catalyst for the film’s events to get increasingly “bad to worse”, the script never moves away from the main characters. So, no additional scenes of weather forecasters in a newsroom, no bloated filler of the government officials, blah, blah…you know what I mean. Basically, if it isn’t important to the main problem with Haley and Dave Keller, the script doesn’t include it.

The overall presentation of Crawl is pretty decent for a survival feature film. Of course, given the nature of the movie and its plot / narrative storyline, I’m not expecting a lot of theatrical dramatics within the film’s background setting and or its technical achievements, but what’s presented definitely works within the parameters of the film’s narrative plot. Of course, much like what I mentioned above, the enclosed Crawl space area definitely works, which makes the art directions (Dragan Kaplarevic and Ketan Waikar) and production designs by Alan Gilmore) of the film to be effective in that regard. Additionally, the film’s practical effects of water (of which there is a lot of) is also another solid positive for the film’s presentation. In short, the physical environment for Crawl’s narrative works and delivers a disastrously fun setting for the movie’s story to take place.

There are a few problems with the movie that draw criticism with, making Crawl to be, still a wholesome endeavor, but just lacking in several areas. Naturally, of course, the big problem is how the cheesy B-rated movie the film actual is. Aja certain seems to know that and plays off of it, but the B-rated fun of it all gets lost in some pretty stupid character mistakes throughout. What do I mean? Well, they are littered throughout the movie, so they are pretty obvious to point out. Again, I kind of expected it, but it’s still hard to overlook some pretty “bonehead” movies that both main protagonist characters (Halley and Dave) as well as several other minor characters. This isn’t aided by the fact that some of the written dialogue lines are a bit goofy and / or clunky throughout.

In truth, there’s not a whole lot of story substance in this movie, which can be both a cursed and blessing (depending on what you look at it). Personally, while I do like how Crawl’s narrative plays out, a bit more “meat on the bone” is definitely needed in the film’s story. Not a whole lot, but more than what’s presented. This includes the movie’s ending, which ends rather abruptly with not a whole lot of closure to the story. Another problem is within the film’s alligators, which some CGI visual effects were used to render some of them (in a variety of sequences). Because of the feature’s limited budget, the CG visual effects of the gators are a little “spotty” and can be easily pointed out in several glaring scenes. That’s not to say the movie’s tension is raised when the gators attack and hunt their prey, but a little more budget in the computer visual could’ve been beneficial for a more believable experience…. if you know what I mean.

The main cast in Crawl only consist of two primary characters and (thankfully) they are both equally strong performances by the acting talents behind them. First off there is actress Kaya Scodelario, who plays the film’s central main protagonist character of Haley Keller. Known for her roles in Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Tiger House, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale, Scodelario delivers a solid performance in her portrayal of Haley. Much like the film itself, the character of Haley isn’t really anything new or original, but it’s clearly demonstrated in Scodelario’s portrayal of her that she is not a stereotypical footnote teen / young adult character in either a survival / horror endeavor. Naturally, the character is fierce, strong, and quick on her feet and Scodelario delivers all that as well as emotional beats, which add tension to the feature’s scenes and makes her a character easily to root for (from start to finish). Thus, Scodelario’s Haley is the strong character pillar Crawl and certainly gives a palpable performance (neither overselling or underselling her performance in the role).

As a more largely secondary character in the movie (behind Scodelario’s Haley), actor Barry Pepper plays the character of Haley’s father, Dave Keller. Pepper, known for his roles in Saving Private Ryan, 61*, and Enemy of the State, does a good job in the role of Haley’s dad, who gets caught up in the feature’s events. Much like Haley, the character of Dave isn’t exactly “reinventing the wheel”, but Pepper definitely sells the troubled issues of the man (and with his relationship with his daughter) with great effect. Together, both Scodelario and Pepper work great together in the movie and definitely have a good on-screen chemistry throughout the entire film….in both action and character drama capacities.

With the movie mostly focusing on the characters of Haley and Dave Keller current survival situation, Crawl doesn’t have much in the way of supporting players. Of course, there are some, including actress Morfydd Clark (The Call Up and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Haley’s sister Beth and actor Ross Anderson (Privates and Unbroken) as family friend / cop named Officer Wayne Taylor, but most of these characters are very minor and mostly just frame / setup certain events in the film. That being said, what’s presented in all the supporting roles (a few other characters that I didn’t mention) are perfectly fine. Lastly, there is a dog in the movie (Sugar), who belongs to the Keller family and does get involved in the film’s events. So, just a fair warning, for those who get a bit unsettled seeing house animals in some minor peril sequences.

FINAL THOUGHTS


As a powerful category 5 hurricane batters the coast of Florida, Haley and her dad fight to stay alive from both the raging maelstrom outside and their alligator infested crawlspace in the movie Crawl. Director Alexandre Aja’s latest film takes the classic survival movie and presents quite surprising hit within modest production budget. While there are some nuances that the film can’t surpass, the movie has more positives than negatives…. thanks to Aja’s direction, some pretty fun tense filled scenes, and a small (yet strong) character performances from both Scodelario Pepper. Personally, I liked it. Though it’s not exactly original and some parts seems a bit “bonehead” in characters choices, but I was quite surprised on how much I liked it….in a pulpy B-rated “animals attack” movie. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a favorable “recommended” stamp of approval as it’s quite a sleeper hit of 2019, especially those who are looking for something a bit different from today’s current slew of commonplace film releases. In the end, while it’s doesn’t really bring anything new in both the survival / horror subgenre of the apex animal predators, Crawl certainly “takes a bite” of a satisfying cinematic B-rated cheesy fun; savoring its taste with duplicable delight.

4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 
Released On: July 12th, 2019
Reviewed On: July 29th, 2019

Crawl  is 87 minutes long and is rated R for bloody creature violence, and brief language

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