Movie Review: ‘Crawl’

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“Crawl” follows a father and daughter. As a Category 5 hurricane approaches the Florida community, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) worries for her father’s (Barry Pepper) safety. She calls him many times. No answer. She texts him again and again. No reply. Eventually, Haley braves the weather conditions and heads to her family’s old house, hoping to find her father. Once there, she locates her father, but he’s not alone. An aggressive alligator lurks in the basement. Before long, other alligators will join the party. Haley and her father are forced to battle nature in its most horrifying form. Will they endure? Or will they be alligator food?

To watch “Crawl” is to see a talented horror director at work. Alexandre Aja, a filmmaker known for “High Tension,” “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Piranha 3D,” has crafted a fast-moving adventure, full of chills and thrills. Unlike many modern films, Aja’s monster flick is monumentally lean. The running time flows past like running water. There isn’t an ounce of pretentiousness in this flick.

Aja knows that bland storytelling can make a short running time feel longer than it is. With this film, he makes sure that his film has purpose at every turn. The alligators are phenomenally terrifying. In terms of monster goods, the alligators are constantly seen throughout the film. Their quick reflexes and powerful chomps help create unsettling instances of gore.

Oftentimes, when other humans are in an alligator-infested area, the kills are extremely quick. The best horror flicks tap into our fears of monstrous entities, and in this case, Aja shows us how helpless these human characters really are. Most of the time, due to the alligators’ stealthy, bloodthirsty nature, characters are unable to properly defend themselves. There is a clear emphasis toward the idea of response time. In “Crawl,” humans have a short response time, but they have to make the most of it. If they don’t, they will lose their lives. When attacked, humans look like rag dolls, viciously thrown around and chomped to bits by a dominant force. Essentially, they are chew toys.

Aja perfectly utilizes jump scares. The utilization of short response periods justifies the consistent utilization of said scares. Even with all of the sudden surprises, the film firmly focuses on unwavering suspense. Aja’s suspense set pieces are unbelievably white-knuckle. And they come in bunches. As viewers, it feels like a sustained pursuit, brimming with apprehensive fluidity.

Most importantly, we care about the characters. The screenplay, written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, is a tour de force in terror because of its familial ties. Even with all the horrific aspects, this film has a great deal of humanity. Overall, the human characters enable us to fasten our seat belts for the cinematic ride that will ensue. The best horror films force us to merge with the fictional figures.

Here, we have a father dealing with divorce and regret. We have a daughter, battling the aftereffects of familial separation. Through dire circumstances, they are brought together. Credit must be given to the performers for breathing life into these fictional figures. Scodelario expertly portrays a female fighter, defined by courage and toughness. Pepper, a veteran actor, portrays a grieving father, holding onto remnants of his positive past.

Even when Aja takes a break from the alligator action, the film has a purpose. The duo’s taut conversations always go somewhere. At times, the touching conversations flesh out the characters’ familial circumstances, defined by love, hardship and pain. Together, the duo breaks down emotional barriers, and in turn, they become sympathetic. Other times, they discuss their plan of action. Have we seen this type of relationship before? Sure, but overall, I believe that familial reconnection is a timeless concept. And here, it works wonders.

Aja understands that character arcs have to feel earned. As viewers, there’s nothing better than watching fictional characters fight their way through tough circumstances. Aja takes that notion and runs with it. On a consistent basis, we feel a large sense of earthly despair. Due to ongoing problems, the stakes grow. When the characters attempt to execute a plan, something bad/unlucky transpires. Fortunately, when something bad happens, it’s legitimately surprising. Aja’s focus isn’t solely on the alligators. His focus is also towards the additional elements at play, like bugs, noises and the elements. It’s the type of negative escalation that makes us paranoid about every single aspect within the fictional setting.

Additionally, the hurricane is a character in and of itself. Like a force of cosmic destruction, the dark clouds hover over the characters. The water continuously rises, and as a result, drowning becomes more and more likely. But worst of all, as the water rises, the alligators are able to infiltrate additional household areas. Again, the stakes go up. Battling alligators in a visibly clear environment is unsettling. But when we are forced to deal with these reptilian creatures in a water filled environment…that is terror personified. Our inability to see these creatures creates startling forms of immersiveness. Aja’s ensuing jump scares jolt us, and the end result is a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Like most films, “Crawl” isn’t perfect. Haley’s search for her father goes on for too long. Clearly, the search is warranted, but overall, Haley’s investigation could have been sped up. Also, certain aspects will make viewers questions the film. Why are there gigantic holes in the basement walls? Why is an alligator unable to go under a couple of pipes? At certain points, why do the alligators take it easy on the duo? Thankfully, the flick is handled with care, which makes the minor flaws feel less noticeable.

Classic monster films use creatures as symbolic representations, pointing to humanistic darkness. In Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” the animals symbolize the human characters’ underlying tensions. In Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” the shark symbolizes Chief Brody’s fear of the ocean. In John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” the shape shifting monster symbolizes human paranoia/dysfunction. Aja understands the power of horror, and in this film, nature’s power represents the adversity that comes with being a family. The familial duo’s fight against nature represents their undying love, which refuses to accept familial destruction. As a horror fan, it’s nice to see this much thought being put into a genre film. Horror isn’t just pure entertainment. It’s a beacon of rhetoric.

In conclusion, I highly recommend “Crawl.”    Going in, I was a bit nervous. But after leaving the theater, I had a big smile on my face. Simply put, this is horror done right. If you are interested in going to the movies, check out “Crawl!” See you later, alligator!

My Grade:  A-

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