Crawl (2019)

JULY 11, 2019

GENRE: PREDATOR, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Remember Burning Bright, the movie about a young woman and her little brother trapped in their house with a tiger during a hurricane? OK, well, Crawl is basically the same thing except it's her injured dad instead of her brother, and it's an alligator instead of a tiger. Actually a few alligators - I can't be sure but I think there's at least four swimming in and around the house that they're trapped in by a massive hurricane that has flooded their cars away and cut off all communications they may use to call for help. Whether it's intentional or not I don't know; it's not like Burning Bright was this huge hit or anything (it went direct to video, in fact), but as a fan of that one I was happy to see the concept play out again, even if it ultimately suffered from a few of the same issues.

And by that I mean it's a bit repetitive, which is the direct result of the otherwise smart choice of keeping things simple. Characters being trapped with a monster is nothing new, but usually they're in a much bigger locale, like the research facility in Deep Blue Sea, or Jurassic Park in Jurassic Park. Here (and in BB), the setting is a pretty ordinary house in Florida - nothing exotic about it, and while sets are probably being used there's only so much they can expand (wider hallways than your or my house, for example) before the direct appeal - "this could be MY house!" - is diluted too much to be effective. And with the minimal cast, the filmmakers can't just off someone else every 10-15 minutes or else the movie would be too short (as is, it's the rare under 90 minute movie playing right now), so you get a lot of scenes of the heroine slowly making her way around the same spots, temporarily escaping danger only to face a new but more or less similar obstacle moments later.

That said, it's a pretty fun ride all the same. Director Alex Aja (making his first fully original movie since High Tension; everything else has been a remake or book adaptation) masterfully offers up a number of terrific jump scares, most of which even made ME jump so it should play like gangbusters for those who are more easily startled anyway. Kaya Scodelario is pretty great in the role of Haley, a would-be champion swimmer who doubts her own abilities despite encouragement from her father (Barry Pepper), a divorcee who has started withdrawing from his children as well. The plot kicks off when her and her sister are unable to get a hold of him, knowing he lives right in the center of the hurricane target, so Haley drives down to check on him and finds him in the basement of the family home he's halfheartedly trying to sell, unconscious from a pretty nasty wound. Guess how he got it?

Yes even though the house hasn't flooded yet, at least one gator is already inside, so there's minimal waiting for the fun stuff to get going once she arrives at the house (probably 20 minutes into the movie). The various pipes and half-walls in the (seemingly too big, but whatever) basement provide them with spots that are safe from the gators, but the rising water means they can't just sit and wait for the storm to pass and help to arrive, as they will drown first. The dad's injuries keep him from getting too far, so it's all on Haley to move him around, find help, battle the gators, and - when time allows - patch things up with her old man before it's too late.

Without spoiling anyone's fate, I will say this - Aja and the screenwriters (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) improve on Burning Bright's minor issue that the two people in the movie were never in any believable mortal danger - they're not going to kill a little kid, and if Briana Evigan dies at all it won't be until the film's conclusion. Not the case here - Pepper can go at any minute, having fulfilled his 2nd billing status after only about ten minutes (since the other six people in the movie only have a scene or two each, it's not a big task), and as a bonus (for lack of a better word) there's also the family pooch, Sugar, who is big enough to avoid easily drowning or being stepped on but not big enough to help in any meaningful way. There's a bit where Haley tries to escape the basement using an access panel that is unfortunately blocked by a hutch or something on that floor above, and she can only get her hand through - which the dog just sniffs and licks instead of being a superhero movie dog and moving the thing out of the way himself. The realistic approach is most welcome, and with Aja's penchant for surprise attacks, you're worried about the pooch every time he appears.

This sequence unfortunately leads to one of the movie's occasional "the characters have to act stupid for the plot to work" bits, which I always feel can be improved upon with a little bit of effort. Moments after this escape attempt fails, a cop comes by in his boat and starts checking the place out, knowing Haley went there and concerned he didn't hear back from her. She knows he's there, but rather than go back to the hatch that was big enough to fit a hand through, where she could call for help and it would only take him a few seconds to push the thing out of the way, she bangs on pipes and calls for help from her random spot in the basement, prompting further complications. There's also a dumb moment where she gets back to her cell phone (after having dropped it in the open near the gator) and instantly tries to call 911 from there, instead of retreating back to her safe spot first - come on! We know the phone will end up broken/useless anyway, why make your character look like a dummy in the process when there's so many other ways to solve the phone problem?

Otherwise, she's a well written heroine - she's remarkably "quiet" in that she rarely screams or panics - she's able to think quick and be resourceful more often than not. There's a bit where she gets a gun and how she uses it is something I don't know if I've seen before (except in the trailer, which sadly gave it away), but I know it's pretty badass. Aja doesn't indulge in his gore as much as you might expect given his previous adventures with water monsters, but he doesn't hold back when necessary, either - the R rating is justified, but never flaunted, which is an approach I quite liked. There are some gnarly injuries and a pretty glorious death for a supporting character, but it feels like everyone decided to be as realistic as possible, perhaps to balance things out with the kind of ridiculous plot? Though to be fair, there have been reports of gators entering homes even without the aid of flooding waters, so I guess it's not as farfetched as it may seem on paper. The gators look good too - the CGI is never dodgy and animatronics are used when possible, so I was pretty happy with them, and Aja smartly keeps them partially submerged more often than not to minimize any potential fake-looking moments anyway.

Basically, if you liked Burning Bright or The Shallows, you should be pretty satisfied here as the approach seems to be "basic story maximized for scares/suspense", and it works far more often than it doesn't. I believe it's told in real time from the moment she enters the basement to look for her dad, which is always a ballsy tactic that I admire, and it works to the film's advantage more often than not, as we can keep track of where everyone (and everything) is, while also never having time to slow down and forget the various dangers (bleeding out, rising waters, and of course, chompy chomp). It's a shame they didn't hold off release until August, as everyone's still seeing Spider-Man and/or waiting for Lion King, so it's not like the movie's gonna pack every theater this weekend (plus Stuber, pretty much the summer's only other R rated original so far, is opening today as well), because it'll probably be one of those movies people end up wishing they saw on the big screen when they could and it would probably sell more tickets in the less crowded August, but I assume they wanted to stay away from 48 Meters Down (I don't care, that's the title it should be and that's what I'm calling it!), so I get it. Here's hoping it does well enough for Aja to secure another wide release next time (his last two were very limited), now that we know he is capable of delivering more traditional thrills - if Eli Roth can do a kid's movie there's no reason his fellow "splat pack"er can't be trusted to apply his keen eye and craftsmanship to a blockbuster type, if he so desires.

What say you?

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