Crawl boasts an incredibly simple, albeit slightly outlandish, premise where a young swimmer named Hayley (Kaya Scodelario) attempts to rescue her injured dad Dave (An always good to see Barry Pepper) from a category five hurricane and a monstrously cold-blooded and hungry congregation of alligators whilst trapped in the rapidly flooding crawlspace of her childhood home.
Admittedly it is an incredibly unrealistic premise that borrows a lot from ‘Burning Bright’ the film in which a young woman attempts to escape being trapped in a house with a tiger during a hurricane, but Crawl executes its similar premise much more deftly, delivering a film that fulfils its giant alligators killing people concept but also goes a step further bringing us a perfect summer popcorn horror that will have people rooting for and cheering on the protagonists.
This is, in part, thanks to its positively brief runtime which recognises there’s a limit to how long a film of this nature needs to be before it gets tedious and partly thanks to the assured direction of Alexandra Aja who manages to get a surprising amount of terror and tension, as well as unexpectedly clear and easy-to-see shots and cinematography, from a film that takes place in the dark, dingy and flooded confines of the crawlspace under a house for most of its runtime.
The alligators themselves are perfectly realised and excellently built up as horrific antagonists for our extremely small casts of humans to battle for survival against. Aja’s decision not to shy away from showing his leathery foes fully on-screen from with the surprising wall-bursting introduction of one at the beginning of the film as well as excellent use of light and shade, really helped to convey the sheer size, strength and brutality of these huge lizards. And that’s before we get to the tense, inventive, and bone-crunching brutal deaths we see from looters and policemen who are unfortunate enough to get tangled up in Hayley, Dave and their plucky dog Sugar’s fight for survival. (Don’t worry, the dog makes it)
Aja’s full realisation of his multiple antagonists and formidable, fear-inducing predators makes Hayley’s struggle all the more cathartic and fist-pump inducing, with Scodelario potentially delivering one of her best and most committed on-screen physical performances. Like Sharni Vinson in ‘You’re Next’ and Blake Lively in ‘The Shallows’ her character is talented, strong-willed, determined and resourceful, she’s every bit the strong female lead that people have been asking for more of.
A particularly standout being a scene towards the end of the movie in which everything has well and truly hit the proverbial fan and Hayley finds herself trapped inside her claustrophobically small and rapidly flooding bathroom with a giant lizard trying to eat her and she inventively manages to evade certain death. This is just one of many moments throughout the film in which the acting and direction really do justice to the triumph of the characters and gets the audience cheering along.
However, Hayley and her father are not invincible, there are very real stakes and the audience is reminded of this regularly thanks to some great gory effects as characters get bitten, thrown around and dismembered and a very smart script that recognises that there’s no tension or drama if our heroes are invincible. Very early on Hayley’s leg gets caught in the jaws of one of the fearsome beasts and you’re left wondering how she could possibly escape. This is just one of many moments that remind us of the fragile mortality of the characters and the realistic danger of their situation.
The inevitable character development between father and daughter as they reconcile in the jaws of impending death isn’t particularly great with hokey dialogue that didn’t fully show off the acting capabilities of either Pepper or Scodelario, but it does the job of fleshing out these characters to make the audience care just that little bit more that they survive and doesn’t necessarily detract from the film.
Crawl’s high-concept but limited premise means that it has a ceiling that keeps it as a fun summer romp through alligator infested waters but not much more than that and it knows it. But, in a summer devoid of genuine thrills with films content to lay cold and still on the riverbank as birds pick food from between their teeth, Crawl breaks up the monotony with a thrashing, primal barrel -roll of a creature feature.