Pure Flesh-Eating B-Movie Delight
What could be worse than being in Florida with a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on the state? No, the answer is not “waking up to discover that you now live in Boca Raton.” The answer we’re looking for is to awaken from the nightmare of your neighborhood now being infested with hungry gators looking to feed in the flood waters. That’s the scenario faced by Haley (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner) and her father Dave (Barry Pepper, Saving Private Ryan) in the new Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) film called Crawl that is a quarter-ton of pure flesh-eating B-movie delight
The film opens as collegiate swimmer Haley receives a phone call from her sister Beth (Morfydd Clark, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) notifying her that a hurricane is heading straight for their south Florida family home… and their father isn’t answering the phone. As Beth nears the home to check on him, roads are being closed, the sky is angry, and the storm has already begun to inundate the area with dangerous amounts of water while hordes of people begin fleeing northward following a mandatory evacuation.
Once inside, Beth finds her father trapped, injured, and unconscious in the crawlspace beneath the house. It is then that Beth discovers what caused the claw and bite marks on his body; the water beneath the house has made an inviting habitat for the not-so-friendly alligator that has been patrolling the rising waters beneath the house. Oh, and that’s not all. Another alligator has found its way inside via the now accessible drain pipe under the house. But wait, there’s more. Water is rapidly rising in the crawlspace. And even if Beth and her father manage to escape the ravenous reptiles, there’s still a Cat 5 hurricane raging outside!
If this all sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. With its preposterous setup, overly simple plot, and tiny cast (basically two people), this thing really shouldn’t work. But under Aja’s hand, Crawl is packed with plenty of action and features some of the summer’s biggest moments of mayhem, destruction, and gator gore. I promise, you won’t see more exposed bone and torn flesh anywhere else at the Cineplex. Oh, and it’s just a whole lot of fun to watch.
The big surprise here is how successful Aja and screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen are at playing their story straight without sucking too much of the fun and fright from their creature/disaster mash-up. It certainly could have used a bit more humor and self-awareness, but perhaps such a ridiculously preposterous setup is amusement enough and needs a certain amount of clarity and realism to drive the terror home. Besides, the threats coming from both inside and outside the house are very real. And let’s not question Aja’s penchant for knowing how to put an audience on the edge of its seat. After all, his bloody horror/comedy Piranha 3D and his ferocious take on Cravens’ The Hills Have Eyes (2006) prove he is never one to waste a single minute when scaring our pants… or arms… or legs off.
At a clock-chewing 87 minutes, it’s hard to find a whole lot wrong with Crawl, but there were several sequences in the basement where we lose track of our protagonists and where they are in relation to the toothy creatures. There’s a whole lot of chaos going on when all hell breaks loose and we’re occasionally unsure where the danger is and, more importantly, where safety lies. And then there are the silly jump scares and all the dumb decisions. But quite honestly, they never feel forced or out of place, and Aja uses them to keep the plot moving forward. In addition, the film is visually quite slick and polished and might have benefitted from a more gritty production.
Clark and Pepper are quite good in their roles as tough-love father and embittered daughter. Thankfully, we are occasionally given breaks from the madness and afforded a chance to catch our collective breath when Beth and her father have heart-to-heart discussions about their broken family and the animosity held between the two. And what an ask for these two actors and crew who most assuredly grew sick of standing in waist deep water during production.
It’s hard to imagine that we’ve never seen a premise quite like this one before, especially knowing that gator country always seems to be a magnet for hurricanes, flooding, and severe weather. But Aja and the Rasmussens might have stumbled into new sub-genre with Crawl. A sub-genre that offers a whole host of ways to inflict harm both from within and without.
Crawl isn’t perfect, and neither is it pretty. But it doesn’t have to be. It is a nasty little adventure film that drags us through the mud of heartbreak, broken family, and mother nature’s fury. Just be sure to buy plenty of popcorn, sit back, and let it sink its teeth into your day.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “R” for bloody creature violence and brief language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.