CRAWL (2019)

Crawl 2019.jpg

Studio:      Paramount Pictures
Director:    Alexandre Aja
Writer:      Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Producer:  Craig Flores, Sam Raimi, Alexandre Aja
Stars:     Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson

Review Score:



While a hurricane rages around them, a father and daughter trapped underneath their house fight for their lives against enormous alligators.



As acknowledgment for how creatively its script consistently structures suspense around imaginative serendipity, ¡°Crawl¡± can be classified as a cleverly written thriller. Don¡¯t mistake that for meaning the same thing as smartly written. For ¡°Crawl¡± to be considered smart, it would have to offer a better answer than ¡°just go with it¡± to countless questions that come up over the course of its ludicrously improbable story.

Logical or not, usually not, ¡°Crawl¡± always has a response at the ready for how to move its heroine from frying pan to fire to another fire and back again. Bear in mind, the movie pairs best with Sour Patch Kids and a 64-ounce soda. If you get too hung up on how plot beats unapologetically ignore sense when they¡¯re strung together, you¡¯re not enjoying the film for the bombastic spectacle of matinee madness it means to be.

We¡¯re introduced to Haley at a collegiate swim meet. Now we won¡¯t have to wonder how she became so skilled at Michael Phelps-like maneuvers when her aquatic athletic abilities naturally come into play later. Just as conveniently, Haley¡¯s poor performance at this particular relay triggers a childhood flashback to her demanding father Dave pushing ¡°I don¡¯t wanna¡± Haley to act like an ¡°apex predator.¡± ¡°Crawl¡¯s¡± two-for-one prologue is nothing if not efficiently on-the-nose regarding the backstory bricks it lays in four minutes.

Haley¡¯s sister has her hands full with a fussy baby. With Hurricane Wendy bringing big storms toward town, if falls on Haley to find out if their unresponsive father evacuated safely. Surprise, surprise, he didn¡¯t. In the unusually enormous crawlspace underneath their former family home, Haley finds Dave unconscious, his leg broken, and his chest strangely slashed.

The estranged duo¡¯s unplanned reunion only worsens from there. An oversized alligator suddenly bursts through the cellar staircase, destroying their main means of escape. Haley¡¯s conspicuously dropped cellphone turns into a comically kicked-around prop in an ultimately futile attempt to call for help. Overturned furniture blocks an overhead hatch. A drainpipe leads to a gator nest instead of outside. If any little thing can go wrong, you¡¯d better believe it does. Murphy¡¯s Horror Movie Law ensures Haley and Dave are threatened on all sides by drowning, failed escape attempts, and of course, gators, gators, gators. Will they ever find a quiet moment to patch up their rocky relationship?

Constructed more from software than from practical puppetry, ¡°Crawl¡¯s¡± gators look great. They move with more ferocity and fantasy than any actual alligator you¡¯ve ever seen in a zoo. Yet animators add excellent details like having tail ridges bump a pipe while turning among other little flexes of musculature. These interactions with their environment add flashes of flair to keep the creatures from merely being hollow facilitators of fear. CGI blends remarkably well with murky waters and fast-moving floods so the killer crocs not only stay somewhat mysterious, but the camera doesn¡¯t risk any completely clean looks that might expose pixilated phoniness.

¡°Crawl¡¯s¡± gators are also uncannily crafty at orchestrating jump scares. If their arms had joints, I fully expect ¡°Crawl¡± would have had an alligator put a hand on someone¡¯s shoulder just so no ¡°gotcha!¡± stone was left unturned. As is, you¡¯ve got to give it to these playful predators for knowing exactly where to hide, when to pounce, and how to stay silent until their prey springs each carefully conceived trap.

At this point, it warrants repeating. If you¡¯re expecting anything in the realm of realism, you¡¯re obviously looking in the wrong movie. ¡°Crawl¡± doesn¡¯t include an ounce of unnecessary narrative fat that might interfere with its agenda of just jumping from one frenzied fray to the next. Haley and Dave are basically desperate to progress from Point A (the basement) to Point B (rescue). The only stops in between are more situations of incredibly complicating circumstances.

How does a tight two-person premise maintain 80-odd minutes of tension? ¡°Crawl¡± knows its audience realizes Haley and Dave can¡¯t escape or die too early. Nevertheless, that doesn¡¯t stop the movie from occasionally spinning its wheels by repeating similar scenes of fighting, fleeing, and falling back to regroup before another sequence that doesn¡¯t advance anyone to new positions.

¡°Crawl¡± compensates by chumming the waters around Haley¡¯s house with random victims for gators to chew on. A trio of thieves looting a gas station across the street and two cops conducting a search and rescue get mauled in gruesome fashion, in case there was any worry about ¡°Crawl¡± coming up short on carnage. Haley and Dave take more than their fair share of punishment too. Between the bitten legs, bitten arms, and limbs nearly torn from their sockets, ¡°Crawl¡± giddily uses our heroes as pincushions to poke, prod, and pull apart like a freckle-faced kid dementedly playing Marquis de Sade with a lightning bug.

Every action, development, and subsequent burst of hectic horror is completely contrived from the Paramount Pictures logo to the end credits copyright. But ¡°Crawl¡± makes up for its lack of logic with an abundance of intensity. Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper power the father-daughter battery with personable performances while the unrelenting witches wheel of wildness sears the screen with escapist entertainment. Remember, I only claimed ¡°Crawl¡± was craftily clever. I never said it was smart.

Review Score: 60