Movie Review: Crawl.
The gator filled romp doesn’t innovate, but it does show some bite here and there.
Well. The obligatory summer creature feature has arrived. Last year we got the tediously boring The Meg. Then it was 47 Meters Down. The Shallows showed its chops in 2016. This year I guess we give the silly shark movie genre a break and get some gators instead. Just kidding, 47 Meters is getting a sequel next month! Consider this a little bit of bayou sorbet, an reptilian pallet cleanser. With that in mind, how does Crawl stack up to the recent, toothy fare?
Crawl is a decent summer creature flick, though it instantly feels very familiar. The acting is fine, the creature design is solid but not amazing, and the pacing mostly works. I liked the characters despite their generic family drama, but I have a soft spot for Barry Pepper after Knockaround Guys, and he matches up with fellow Maze Runner alum Kaya Scodelario well. The film managed to fit more kills in it than I anticipated given the premise, but quite a bit of it came from subplots that didn’t feel necessary. Crawl flashed some teeth here and there, but never really bit down deep enough to elevate it beyond forgettable summer fluff.
Haley (Kaya Scodelario) heads into the winds of a massive hurricane to find her estranged father (Barry Pepper). She tracks him down to their old family home, which is right in the path of the storm. Following the trail down into the crawlspace of the house, she finds her father injured and unconscious. As she attempts to pull him away from the rising flood waters, she discovers what attacked him: a pair of massive alligators have taken up residence in the crawlspace and are looking for lunch.
Well Worn Tracks.
The nuts and bolts of the narrative aren’t all that novel. Two characters with history get trapped together by circumstance. There’s a monster hunting them just out of reach. Each time they devise an escape plan, something thwarts them. Rinse, repeat. Lots of good horror films have this MO, so I’m not blaming the overall story arc. It just felt like there weren’t very many places Crawl tried to leave its mark.
The family drama between Haley and her dad didn’t break any new ground, and some of the dialogue was frankly lame. Looking at you, “apex predator!” family motto. The gator kills rarely felt innovative, though one or two lasted uncomfortably long enough to rise above jump scares and to be genuinely upsetting. The escape plans weren’t ingenious, and the plot constantly yanking the football away from our heroes actually squashed the tension. Yeah, plan E is probably going to fail just like A through D, so why bother? The one thing I did really like was the setting.
Riders of the Storm.
I like the idea of the storm becoming not just a timer but an implacable antagonist. Honestly, it felt more threatening than the gators at times. The jump scares caused by the storm certainly were more effective. We actually spend a good chunk of the early film just navigating the tension and terror of the impending storm. That time felt really lived in and genuinely interesting. As the film progresses, the storm keeps altering the landscape and changing the pressures, which goes a long way to keeping the tension taut. I kinda wish this alligator movie had been more hurricane disaster horror than generic creature feature.
Down to a Crawl.
It’s a good thing that the storm keeps things fresh, because the movie bogs down in repetition. I knew that when we first met Haley at a swim race that we’d eventually see her have to outrace a gator. Turns out we need to see it multiple times. The film cycles through a routine of trying to outsmart the reptiles, having an outside person/item introduce hope only to become dinner, and then Haley having to make a miracle swim. I liked it enough the first time through, and thought I was just about done with the movie. Nope. Turns out we need to go through the whole cycle again. And again. Each time with our heroes survival becoming less and less credible.
Do Alligators Work Like That?
I know it may be silly to question creature feature logic, but it often kills the film for me. I really liked The Shallows…but it was a definite knock to my suspension of disbelief that the heroine survived so many fatal injuries before outracing a shark. It wasn’t as bad in Crawl, but I still think that the filmmakers don’t get how gators work. Pretty sure if they bite a piece of you, they pretty much own it. You don’t get it back and get to keep using it after Magic Movie Tourniquet® has been dutifully applied. They bite with piston force, for jeeze sake, even when they’re not super giant movie gators. I know most real alligator attacks aren’t lethal…but they still fuck you up pretty good. Not sure you get chomped twice and still beat them in the 100 meter.
…But I Didn’t Hate It!
So, you got to the end of the review in which I pretty much take my own bites out of Crawl fairly frequently. I must have had a miserable time, right? Not really. Much like Haley, the movie keeps getting chomped on but still swimming away to safety.
I think the acting was good enough to overcome the bad dialogue in places. While the constant hope dangling was annoying at the end, it was really effective early on. I loved the setting, and the cinematography was good. There was only one really cheesy digital gator moment, so that’s a big win for these kinds of movies. The occasional good kill outweighed the perfunctory ones.
I wish the movie had left us on a harrowing cliff hanger instead of making us go through the story cycle the final time. That would have been a really audacious move, and a risky bluff with a new franchise. But let’s be real. These movies get sequels no matter how good they are. I could have stood to have Haley and her dad’s fate up in the air till next summer, when Crawl 2: Crawl Harder makes its inevitable way to theaters.