CRAWL - There's Gators in These Waters
“Crawl” delivers lots of alligators and water as a creature feature set in Florida should
There are so many things that can kill you in Florida. It’s really the trade-off of living in The Sunshine State. What happens when two things Florida has an abundance of, water and alligators, combine to really kill you is the scenario director Alexandre Aja presents in “Crawl”. Mixing the disaster of a hurricane and flood with the threat of hungry and territorial alligators, “Crawl” does just enough right things to elevate it above a concept reserved for the SyFy channel.
The plot of “Crawl” is simple enough because this is a movie that primarily takes place in a confined space. Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is a struggling swimmer at The University of Florida (A nice and not so subtle touch). She gets a call from her sister, who is worried about their father, Dave, (Barry Pepper) and an oncoming category 5 hurricane. Haley, ignoring the evacuations taking place, goes to check on her father and eventually makes it to their old family home.
This is where Haley discovers her father, who has been injured by a large alligator in the crawl space of the building. Haley is soon trapped with her father in the crawl space as it turns out many more gators are in play along with rising flood waters. The two must brave the odds and try to escape while also patching up some family drama. You see Dave was Haley’s swimming coach, he pushed her quite a bit as a kid, and, well, it all comes into play in exactly how you’d expect.
“Crawl” isn’t a perfect movie or even a plausible by any stretch of the imagination. I mean this is a film where the two main characters suffer multiple gator attacks and survive. This is also a film where we’re supposed to believe a struggling college swimmer, who is also injured, can outswim multiple alligators. Think about that one for a minute.
Still, “Crawl” is a movie that understands exactly what it wants to do. This is a movie mixing a disaster with creature feature horror aspects. That’s the bread and butter, and Aja doesn’t try to approach it any other way. At only 87 minutes in length, “Crawl” doesn’t waste too much time establishing the family drama aspect before plunging Haley and Dave into the seemingly impossible situation of escaping the crawl space. Survival is the simple task of the film. Whenever Haley completes an objective and seems to be in reach of safety, another challenge is presented. The flow of the movie is very simple, but it is also very effective.
The flow is effective because the film does not spend too much time on the family drama between Haley and Dave. Aja uses flashbacks to establish how Dave coached Haley in her swimming and pushed her to be the best. Tension remains between father and daughter over that and other things, especially the breakup between Dave and Haley’s mother. The two can’t dwell on that too much, though, because of those pesky alligators and those pesky flood waters.
Watching “Crawl”, I couldn’t help but being reminded of “The Shallows”. That movie had a similar concept of the protagonist being trapped by a large predator. The main characters in both films must find their courage and confront nature while risking their lives in the process. “Crawl” differs from “The Shallows” by adding the extra element of the ticking clock in the form of the flood waters filling the crawl space. Haley and Dave can’t stay down there forever and will have to either confront the alligators or confront drowning. The structure of the crawl space has tiny openings in the brick and stonework that allows the water to rush inside. This is a constant reminder to the audience that time is running out for the protagonists, and it is rather effective reminder at that. I did enjoy the added risk. The alligators, of course, sell this movie, but the extra layer of danger contributes to the tension and raises the stakes.
With “Crawl” being a film that takes place, for the most part, in a dark cellar, Aja does some things that livens up the setting and look at times. One of the more hilarious scenes involves a group of looters not figuring alligators would be in the flood waters. I down right cackled at how a particular kill was framed and shot. What can I say? I didn’t down right hate Haley and Dave, so I had to have a scene where I was cheering for the alligators. Another way “Crawl” breaks away from the murkiness at times is the usage of red, whether it’s blood or flares, in the waters. Some of the underwater scenes are quite beautiful when there’s a bit of red added to the color palette. It’s just that the red is probably coming from some poor sap becoming gator food.
I had low expectations going into “Crawl”, but I walked away thoroughly enjoying the film. There was no moment where I groaned or just flat out hated something on screen. Sometimes, especially in genre films like this one, you must take a direct approach. “Crawl” is a movie about alligators in a hurricane. You get exactly that, and it’s entertaining for the overwhelming majority of its runtime.