On the surface, Crawl could easily descend into a silly B-movie without much gravitas, where our leads are attacked by vicious reptiles and get out of ridiculous situations quickly but, somehow, director Alexandre Aja and his team have created a genuinely enjoyable horror/thriller that takes a unique, unusual situation but still manages to build tension and a real desire to fight for your lead characters.
After an initial setup of who our lead Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is, she’s a competent swimmer on the team at the University of Florida, we watch her taking part in a swimming competition with storm gathering in the background. At first glance, I was worried that this over-kill of specific setup would go on for too long, we all know we’re here for the action, but to be fair to Crawl, for the overall outcome and character development, these are important moments.
After finishing her swimming, she gets a call from her sister Beth, who tells her that a Category 5 Hurricane is on the way to where she is and she’s not been able to get hold of their father, who was last seen back at home. Obviously worried about his well-being, despite them having a recent estranged relationship, Haley heads back as she’s closest to where he lives and has also noticed he’s not answering her phone calls either. Heading back ‘home’, she finds the family dog but not her Dad, however, after a little investigation – and a broken sink alongside a radio playing – she discovers him unconscious under the house and seriously injured. To add to the subtle change in atmosphere, throughout this sequence, the storm is getting worse and neither of them are unaware of its progression. Obviously, from here, they get stuck under the house because the water has risen and, quite worryingly, they’ve also got two alligators with them, hiding from the storm and seemingly hungry for fresh meat.
While many horror/thrillers try to push the agenda of what they’re ‘trying’ to be, Crawl doesn’t suffer from the same fate, there’s a hurricane, they’re in a Florida town that’s slowly being pushed under water after a broken levy, and our key pair are stuck in their home, under the floorboards (in the crawl-space) and have to fight against alligators having a feeding frenzy with more free (drowning people) food than they’ve seen in a long time.
It’s also a clever title, Crawl for many reasons, the only way anyone can get around (on their knees or in a swimming sense), the dangerous reptiles, the space they’re stuck in and the narrative around it all. Director Alexandre Aja, with production involved from Sam Raimi, actually built up a full mini-town that they could gradually submerge as the flood waters hit the fictional town. Rather than over-use blue-screen and lose the audience, this enables a true terror and the Blu-ray featurettes take us behind-the-scenes to talk about the tons of water, the process of getting it all together and the outstanding work from the set-builders and workers.
Why mention this? Because with it they create a true sense of real claustrophobia and, without giving everything away, I felt like Crawl is one of those experience films. You’ve also got two great performances from leads Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper, with a believable link and narrative, plenty of twists and turns which all bite down hard and then drag you into the crazy world. Think Panic Room but with the terror of Jaws and throw in alligators during a category 5 hurricane. This isn’t some forgetful B-movie, it’s great escapism and definitely one worth revisting.