Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenwriters: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper
Horror movies are rarely suspenseful. Many include ghosts or spirits that do little other than open and close doors, or cause spooky string music so we know it’s time to be scared. They scare the character in the movie, but there’s little reason for the viewer to be scared (especially those with no belief in the supernatural). The last creature movie I saw, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, was more action film than horror.
Based on the trailers (which pushed the film’s association with producer Sam Raimi), I was sure Crawl would be stupid; sort of a mix of Hurricane Heist and Jaws, but with alligators. A girl and her dad are trapped in their home during a category 5 hurricane, and they have to survive. Some of the shots in the trailer look absurd, especially when the protagonist tries to lure a gator into a bathtub. It may look silly, but Crawl manages to be tense in spite of incredibly weak dialogue, strange logic, and the bare minimum as regards an actual narrative.
The direction and cinematography are what really bring this film together. Films in the Conjuring universe use the same “loud noise, jump scare” technique for almost everything – it’s a rare moment when the camera is used to deliver a fright. Crawl uses framing and lighting particularly well to deliver its jump scares, whether it’s hiding or revealing a gator. The primary location is a large, yet tight, crawl space, but they also go outside and upstairs. The space is used well throughout every location; the open space plays with the unknown and innumerable alligators, and the small areas have them lurking silently in the shadows. The film’s not afraid to telegraph a scare and show you what’s going to happen, and the viewer has no choice but to watch helplessly as a gator inevitably grabs someone.
The talent of the director really shows in the acting. Like I said, this story is thin. There isn’t much to these characters outside of their strained relationship. They deliver a lot of cliche and banal lines about the past. Each performer brings their best in these lame conversations, and shine the most in their action and horror moments. I felt the physical pain and danger throughout the film and I was sold on the fear of alligators they exhibited.
As for the stupid… we get that right at the beginning. The protagonist is a swimmer at the University of Florida, and they have practice during the opening scene. The protagonist loses the practice race, but that affects nothing. Afterwards, they hear that the hurricane (which has enveloped Florida according to the TV in the background) is coming and literally everyone is surprised. I don’t live anywhere near the coast and I hear about when category 5 hurricanes might hit. They’ve managed to evacuate all of Gainesville except the university swim team, I guess.
There’s also the constant affirmation that our protagonist is faster than an alligator. Life spoiler: you cannot swim faster than an alligator. The fastest recorded human swimming speed was 5.52 MPH by French Olympian Florent Manaudou in 2014; alligators can get up to 20 MPH in water, and they are stealthy, silent hunters. Does this movie really expect me to believe that a college swimmer that can’t even win in practice is outswimming an 8-million year old killing machine? A creature that lives to hunt, death roll, and kill in the water? Yes, it does really expect us to believe.
If you ignore the illogical moments, Crawl is pretty good. It’s not concerned with run-time or packing stuff in; in fact, it sometimes feels like it’s stretching to hit its one hour and twenty-seven minutes. It’s really tense when it’s supposed to be, and that’s what’s most important in a horror film. It could be improved with better characters, but the current ones don’t prevent viewers from getting onboard with the film. Check out Crawl, especially if you’re claustrophobic or hate alligators.