29/07/19 22:52 Filed in: 2019
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario
Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater @BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!
Fact: basements are very rare in Florida since most of the state is at or below sea level.
But why should facts ruin all the fun that can be had when alligators hunt people in the basement of their Florida home during a hurricane? Even though that scenario may sound completely outlandish, the new creature feature/disaster movie mash-up Crawl allegedly was inspired by similar happenings during Hurricane Florence in 2018.
The movie opens with Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) competing in a swim meet as storm clouds loom in the distance (in a prescient gag, her team’s mascot is the Gators). Haley becomes concerned when the storm is upgraded to a hurricane and her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), isn’t answering his phone.
Driving into the storm, Haley defies an evacuation order and pushes through the flood waters to her childhood home. Entering the house, Haley calls out for her dad, but all she hears is pounding rain and wind-blown debris crashing into the house. The search for her father eventually leads Haley to the basement, and anyone who’s seen this movie’s trailer, or any other creature thriller, can pretty much guess what happens from there.
Crawl is one of those movies that only works after you’ve suspended your disbelief. Failing to do so will leave you out in the rain (sorry, #HurricaneHumor).
The story by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen starts off on solid ground, but, like the costal Florida location featured in the movie (which was actually filmed in Belgrade, Serbia), quickly bogs down once the rain starts falling and the flood waters start rising. Whether due to the unreality of the situation or the shoddy CGI, the movie loses much of its credibility when the first gator appears. From that point on, the story gets more and more ridiculous—the Rasmussen’s stretch the thin premise for all it’s worth.
Embracing the tropes of scads of horror movies, Crawl is brimming with inadvisable decisions that place characters in perilous situations…just to create a scare. The movie employs a series of contrivances to move the story along, like: well-placed pipes that protect characters from the gaping jaws of ferocious gators or a gator stepping on and breaking a cell phone before a 9-1-1 call can be placed.
Nitpicks abound in the film as well, like how can someone fire a gun when their arm is being chewed off by an alligator? For that fact, how many times can people be bitten by a gator before they pass out from blood loss and shock (Dave is bitten twice and Haley is bitten three times, yet somehow both are able to keep going)?
There’s a random sequence near the middle of the movie that shifts the focus from Haley and Dave to three foul-mouthed looters, who hoist a convenience store ATM machine into their boat. Though mildly reminiscent of the extreme weather pilfering in The Hurricane Heist (2018), this scene is really just filler since it doesn’t advance the story in any significant way, aside from showcasing more gratuitous carnage. This is just another indication that, when it comes to plot, the Rasmussen’s script has no teeth.
Director Alaxandre Aja, who’s no stranger to creature flicks (Piranha 3D), establishes a strong sense of place and creates a foreboding atmosphere throughout the film. There are some gorgeous shots in the movie, like the skin-crawling scene where alligators swim right past our heroes in the muddy water.
Aja’s character scenes are taut and his action sequences are frenetic without being jarring. And, to his credit, Aja only employs a few jump scares, which have become a staple of horror movies. Though most of Aja’s directorial choices are appropriate, the scene where he frames a close-up of an alligator’s eye is needlessly gimmicky.
As can be guessed from its R rating, Crawl has an excessive amount of swearing, violence and disturbing images. The film features several fierce alligator assaults, most of which result in gory tableaus. Several minutes of the film are dedicated to characters binding up their wounds after these melees, and some of the visuals are downright stomach-turning.
Though the film is dominated by pulse-pounding creature attacks, a few meaningful moments can be detected while sifting through the narrative flotsam. Near the beginning of the movie, Haley is confronted with a moral dilemma: should she leave the area, as ordered by the authorities, or rebel against the evacuation order and attempt to rescue her father? Are there special situations where disobeying an order is permitted, or is that simply “the end justifies the means” mentality? It’s a compelling question that isn’t sufficiently answered by a movie preoccupied with less weighty, more pressing concerns…like survival.
Long before the hurricane arrived, the Keller home was devastated by a different kind of tragedy…divorce. Haley was never close to her dad, and the divorce exacerbated the rift in their relationship. Being trapped in the dank crawlspace forces Haley and Dave to confront their issues and reconcile their differences.
In addition to their physical wounds, the Keller’s are both nursing emotional wounds. In the “memory lane” scene, Dave blames himself for the divorce and says he doesn’t deserve a second chance. Haley has inner conflicts of her own. She’s trying to outrun (or outswim) the expectations her dad has placed on her, as well as those she’s placed on herself.
These few scenes confirm that the movie has more nuance than what’s visible on the surface. You might say its significance creeps up on you.
Though Crawl aspires to be a top-tier thrill ride, it ends up succumbing to the abject silliness typically found in B movies. Despite its unsavory language and grisly story elements, the film delivers exactly what it promises: a suspenseful action yarn with a few good scares. Also in its favor is that, at an hour and twenty-seven minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Ironically, the film has stumbled into some real-world relevance. At the time of its release, Tropical Storm Barry (which threatens to become a hurricane) is bearing down on Louisiana. Since there’s no way anyone at Paramount could’ve known about Barry when the movie started production, consider its timing an unhappy coincidence.
Rating: 2 out of 4