If you were to ask me a month ago if I ever had any intentions of seeing this movie, I would have laughed derisively in your face and possibly even spit on you. How dare you insult me by wasting my time with a question like that? The film looked stupid and was a rather easy decision for me to place on my “Skip” list. But then, earlier this week, a friend of mine, who I disagree with on 136% of his opinions, saw it and said he wasn’t too impressed and that the only thing he liked was the University of Florida references in the first few minutes. With my natural hatred for the University of Florida activated, I quickly deduced that if he hated the rest of the film, that maybe I, an intellectual, would appreciate it. After doing a quick Google search to discover that Rotten Tomatoes scored it 87% with critics and a fairly beefy 78% with fans, I knew something was afoot. And so, I journeyed onwards into the theater to see what all the hoopla was about.
The concept is a simple one: Florida. Need I say more? (Only if I want you to understand.) In probably the most accurate physical description of the state in which I currently reside, we see Florida as the torrential hellscape it is. They have everything down perfectly, with the only notable admission was that there were no crackheads (at least that I could see) trying to overthrow the US government with their arsenal of weaponized chewing tobacco. There are even teenaged looters who ignore the dangers of a direct hit from a category 5 hurricane to steal some hotdogs from a gas station. And our two main characters, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and Dave (Barry Pepper) need to survive a hurricane, hordes of vicious alligators, and rising floodwaters in a claustrophobic thriller that is surprisingly executed far more effectively than its Florida-based premise would suggest.
As a Floridian, I know first hand how destructive a hurricane can be. Having said that, there is not a person in Florida that even flinches at the idea of one of those storms. It’s just a day off of school and work for us. So, to sell the horror aspect of the film, the script correctly depicts the numerous gigantic alligators as the real threat and uses the storm to exacerbate their power. Then trap everybody in a crawl space under a house with the beasts and watch them try to escape before they drown in rising floodwaters. I can say that the formula they execute works. The audience can struggle to breathe with Haley and Dave, and they understand the fear of not knowing where the next gator is at any given point.
Weirdly, the film vehemently insists on pushing a narrative about family that does not affect our investment in the story whatsoever. Dave is Haley’s father who divorced her mother (for reasons unknown) and their family never recovered since. Understandably, the filmmakers tried to humanize the characters, but the idea that Haley was trying to rescue her father was enough to make the situation believable as it was. And considering the final resolution of the film had nothing to do with family, rather than just believing in one’s self, it seems like the whole subplot was unnecessary. Let us not kid ourselves, we only care about the gators and if they can survive.
What makes “Crawl” stand out to me, especially among the myriad of horror films that have already been released this year, is that it chooses to present a means of victory for the characters. In films like “Brightburn” and “Midsommar”, there really is no way for the characters to survive the horror that hunts them, and so, it feels as though there is no reason to believe anything but horrible things can happen to anybody. Essentially, we are just watching whatever force is causing the horror to go on an uninterrupted rampage, which could be entertaining, but doesn’t make for a compelling story. But “Crawl” establishes a way for them to survive, while still maintaining that it is unlikely to do so. The fact that we always know survival to be a possibility allows us, as the viewers, to be more invested in what is playing out on screen.
I would say that I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I won’t pretend we have the next “Citizen Kane” on our hands here but it would be a lie to say that it is a bad film. A problem that “Crawl” will have though is that it still feels like a skippable outing, even after seeing it. Despite it being a decently made slasher/horror, the subject matter just feels like a B-movie, which it probably is if we are being honest. The concept is reminiscent of the direct-to-DVD discount bin you can find at Walmart. It is like a good-but-not-great minor league ballplayer. No one would say that they are bad, but in the grand scheme, they might not be all that significant.
I give “Crawl” a decent 6.5 out of 10
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson
Runtime: 1 Hour and 27 Minutes