Hurricanes are terrifying forces of nature in their own right. The sheer ferocity of their destruction have seen them star in their own disaster films. Crawl looks to ramp up the horror a notch by introducing a congregation of alligators into the mix. It’s the sort of silly premise you’d expect to see premiere on Syfy (no disrespect intended, I love those films) not released theatrically. It couldn’t have harmed the project that Sam Raimi was producing with Alexandre Aja attached to direct.
Facing the onslaught of a Category 5 hurricane, aspiring swimmer Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) becomes concerned for her father, Dave (Barry Pepper). When she arrives at the old family home she finds him unconscious and bleeding in the crawl space underneath the house. As she tries to rescue him she comes face to face with his attackers, large hungry alligators that aren’t willing to let their dinner go without a fight. Trapped and with the area flooding, Haley and Dave must act fast to escape or risk choosing what’s the better fate – drowning or being eaten alive.
What works so wonderfully for Crawl is the simplicity of its premise. The tension is naturally constructed into Michael and Shawn Rasmussen’s script by essence of having the duo trapped. Granted, similar movies such as Jaws, Bait and Black Water employ the same technique, here the claustrophobia of the crawl space adds a little extra to the danger. With the hurricane threatening it isn’t overkill, instead it raises the stakes to create an increased menace that only builds as the movie unfolds.
The creature effects are a little disappointing at first. Aja shows too much too soon which exposes the cartoonish look of the alligators. As the movie progresses he opts to hide and obscure them by the environment which generates greater suspense. There are too many jump scares, particularly early on, however by the midway point the film has earned them. It’s easy to dismiss them as cheap but with the brutality of the kills that accompanies them, they certainly highlight the threat the alligators pose. The hurricane itself is impressive as is the annihilation it causes during a fretful third act.
Scodelario is excellent in the role, she’s tough and resilient with her swimming background used to inject some realism into her survival techniques. It’s a great performance as she and Pepper carry the movie with little room for secondary characters. The estranged father/daughter relationship feels forced as it attempts to add weight to the plot. It exists solely to fill time between the action with both leads doing well with the material although it does slow the film down.
Crawl is a tight horror that proves to be a lot of fun that’s more than deserving of its cinematic release. Aja succeeds in his execution and despite not taking itself too seriously, Crawl doesn’t resort to trashy gags either, treating the audience with respect. Thrilling and tense, it’s the best alligator movie since Lewis Teague’s 1980’s flick Alligator.