Directed by Alexandre Aja.
Starring Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson, George Somner, Ami Metcalf, José Palma, Morfydd Clark, Annamaria Serda, Savannah Steyn and Colin McFarlane.
A young woman, while attempting to save her father during a Category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against alligators.
Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D) continues his run of stylishly adapting sub-par material with a gator flick that, in lesser hands, could easily have imploded in on itself. And though deficient scripting distracts at times, Crawl lives and dies by its strong production and mighty performances.
A Category 5 hurricane is rolling through Florida when prized swimmer Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) learns that her father, Dave (Barry Pepper), has gone radio silent. After driving to his home and finding him injured in the basement, she comes face-to-face with a congregation of hungry alligators eager to rip them limb from limb.
Like the shark movie, the gator film doesn’t exactly have a rep for turning in quality results, but Aja is an inspired filmmaking choice to tackle material that lacks finesse on paper yet requires a well-schooled screw-turner to keep things taut.
As a piece of writing, Crawl is often spectacularly lazy, especially in its opening act. Broad to a fault, as though penned by a first-year film student reaching to impress, the script is chock full of groan-worthy foreshadowing, excessive exposition and cringe-worthy parallels, not least a running gag where Dave refers to his daughter as an “apex predator.”
And though the two-hander between Scodelario and Pepper is quite terrific under the circumstances, the screenplay pads out far too much of its scant 87-minute runtime with sentimental divergences, as though feeling the pointless need to confirm that, yes, Dave is a good father and this family unit is worth rooting for. We get it, and we got it a good while ago.
Thankfully the bulk of the movie’s latter two acts are focused on a well-executed survival scenario, featuring shockingly believable digital alligators given the mere $13.5 million budget. Every bite and strike is felt by the audience thanks to sharp editing and wince-inducing sound work – not to mention some gnarly gore effects – even as the slow-creep of contrivance kicks in, both in terms of the basement’s muddled geography and the not-always-watertight character logic.
Aja is an extremely talented filmmaker even if Rotten Tomatoes might not suggest it, having an unfortunate knack of picking scripts not quite befitting his talents – or as he might prefer to say, elevating the material.
That’s certainly true in either case here, as the horror vet’s precise shot selections make the most of the tight locations, and he doesn’t over-rely on jump scares in order to score manufactured shocks. But the script is king as ever, and there’s only so much Aja can do to make the robotic exposition dumps seem plausible, or make a downright embarrassing CPR scene anything but.
The performers meanwhile do their best to straighten out the iffy writing, with the talented Scodelario giving perhaps her most physically demanding performance to date. She’s easy to root for as a resourceful heroine, no matter how sideways plausibility threatens to go. Pepper, meanwhile, is simply a joy to see in a wide release movie these days, and he’s equally terrific in a role tailor-made for his skill-set.
Crawl is slick junk trying to pretend it’s anything but, though Aja’s tightly wound direction and two strong central performances can almost convince otherwise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.