Director: Alexandre Aja
Stars: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Cso-Cso
Genre mainstay Alexandre Aja is no stranger to pitting man against an aquatic menace. Back in 2010, it was his gleefully trashy Piranha 3D that rocked and romped into movie theatres, trashing spring break way before Harmony Korine got a chance to, and giving bespectacled viewers an eyeful of Jerry O’Connell’s severed penis in state-of-the-art CG definitions. He even bisected pornstar Gianna Michaels.
As the decade draws to a close, he’s back in the B-movie corner again, this time offering up a hurricane filled with alligators. But this is no Sharknado-alike. Aja’s going for gritty, sodden, snappy-snap realness. This is a mean little movie, with barely a trace of Piranha 3D‘s twinkly-eyed schadenfreude.
Kaya Scodelario is Haley, a die-hard Floridian swimmer who makes for the family home to check on her dad Dave (Barry Pepper) as severe weather starts battering the East coast. Sent on the errand by her stay-at-home sister Beth (Morfydd Clark), Haley’s return is a pointed journey into the past. Dave is holed-up in the basement of their childhood home, leg broken and up to his ass in alligators, literally. Pretty soon Haley’s in deep with him.
Crawl spends a good portion of its svelte 87 minute running time in said basement, which becomes something of a labored metaphor for Haley’s problems with the past. It is here among broken old cages and a labyrinth of pipes that she must confront her demons; a misplaced sense of guilt that she was the cause of her parents’ separation.
Perhaps it is because he has his eye on this angle that Aja fumbles the introduction of his reptilian menaces. The first gator barges into the film quite bluntly, and the shock to the system is a little jarring. As with all modern movies that proffer us ‘photo-realistic’ animals, the tendency to critique the beast rather than fear it is strong. It takes a short while for their ferocity to feel weighted.
Quite why these alligators are so vicious toward humans is inexplicable. They often behave contrary to how these animals really would; but they’re a means to an end – i.e. providing some thrills and spills, and to put Aja’s characters through the wringer. And that is something they most certainly manage. Aja is no stranger to gore, and Crawl isn’t shy when it comes to gouging wounds and snapping bones.
This brings up another sore point (pun totally intended). As with the heroes of many a creature feature, Haley and Dave are surprisingly resilient to injury. Both take their fair share of licks. Presumably, Aja’s position is that if you’re on board with a hurricane filled with gators, some extreme pain endurance should be the least of your worries…
While its fun for a while to watch Scodelario contort herself around the pipes of her childhood crawlspace like a contestant on The Crystal Maze, time in the basement does start to stagnate, and not even some fresh meat in the form of would-be looters can stop the rot setting in. Fortunately, once Crawl makes it back to ground level, it starts running. The race to the finish is breathlessly fun, and as mean spirited as the time spent languishing beneath. As the elements reclaim the house, Haley and Dave are forced to let go.
It’s a nice attempt to add a sense of substance and emotional follow-through, but its a little too obvious in a movie this lean. There’s no getting over what Crawl is. The dead-serious tone throughout may try its best to fool you, but the no-nonsense cut to credits combined with that music cue mean there’s no mistaking this flick’s basic DNA.
Crawl goes down in one, leaving precious little aftertaste. Still, its at least the equal of Jaume Collet-Serra’s similarly ruthless woman-vs-shark flick The Shallows; another scrappy monster movie favourite of the last few years.