After I saw The Hurricane Heist in 2018, I thought NO WAY could you add something else to a hurricane that would be more ridiculous. Then I saw the trailer for Crawl and, for one brief moment, I thought I might be wrong. Hurricanes and alligators sounds like the most perfect, most ridiculous combination. Unfortunately, as a movie, Crawl does not quite live up to its ridiculous nature.
Crawl is one of those movies that can be described in 1-2 sentences. Directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D), Crawl tells the story of Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a young woman, who is battling a gang of alligators and an estranged relationship with her father, Dave (Barry Pepper). These stories come together in the crawl space of her childhood home, as a Category 5 hurricane rages on outside. The premise sounds like the dreams of someone who wanted to make a movie but couldn’t decide on a plot so they just picked all three. It’s unfortunate, then, that none of the story lines ever hit their full potential.
“… none of the story lines ever hit their full potential.”
The glaring issue with Crawl is how serious of a movie it is. Creature features are often, by nature, unbelievable and thus ridiculously over the top. And that’s not a bad thing. “Unbelievable” and “over the top” usually make for some of the most fun movies, regardless of quality. With a premise like Crawl, one would think that it would lean further into the camp of it all. Surprisingly, this movie is grounded in some sort of reality. But that’s kind of the problem. Going into a killer alligator film, I was wanting to see people attacked in ways that are unimaginable. It sounds morbid, I know, but this kind of movie works best when it is played as a game of cat and mouse. With a predator and its prey battling it out for 90 minutes. Instead, Crawl is too interested in the human aspect of its story.
It’s less about the alligators as killers and more about the humans as people. The humans and their stories are used as the backbone of the movie. It may sound illogical to want anything different but hear me out. The excitement of this kind of movie comes from people being stuck in a horrible situation with a big, bad monster stalking them. That’s what the audience that watches this kind of movie wants to see. What Crawl gets wrong is that it assumes its audience cares about the estranged father-daughter relationship in this movie. But we don’t. We came to the killer alligator movie to see killer alligators. Anything that isn’t a killer alligator during the runtime is a waste of a killer alligator movie.
“Anything that isn’t a killer alligator during the runtime is a waste of a killer alligator movie.”
What we do see from the monsters is fun. There are moments of genuine terror and dread. Moments that make you wonder how the predator will catch its prey and how the prey will survive its predator. I really like the added twist of the hurricane. Because the house and city are flooding, the alligators are able to swim while stalking their prey. The humans may be in their own home but they do not have the advantage. Giving the predator the upper hand was a smart move that pays off throughout the film. It adds an extra layer of suspense because neither the audience nor the characters know when they will resurface to attack.
One thing that really lost me, even during the film’s brighter moments, was my lack of spatial awareness. Most of the film is set in the crawl space underneath a house. It is dark, flooded, and cramped. It is a good setting to raise the tension. The issue is that, as a viewer, I did not understand the layout of where the characters were. This was detrimental to my investment because I had no clue where was safe, and where wasn’t. Watching characters crawl (heh) in a dark, cramped space in an effort to flee their predators works best when the viewers are on equal ground as those utilizing the space. Without an understanding of the area, we can’t fully experience the range of emotions that come with finding a safe space or being exposed in open water. This is made worse when tension is so consistently lost.
“Without an understanding of the area, we can’t fully experience the range of emotions that come with finding a safe space or being out in open water.”
As I mentioned at the top of this review, Crawl takes itself seriously. Way too seriously. One of the big plot points of the movie is that Haley and Dave are an estranged father-daughter pair, only together because Haley’s sister requests that she goes to check on their father during the hurricane. Their lack of a relationship is a running theme throughout the movie which constantly puts a damper on what we came for. The father-daughter without a real relationship is an interesting dynamic. Especially in such a perilous situation. I lose interest, however, when moments that should be full of tension or suspense are interrupted at their height so that the characters can have a heart to heart moment. The horror aspect loses all of its momentum and the emotional aspect never catches on because it feels so out of place.
From the moment I learned about the movie, Crawl had me. The poster made me laugh, the trailer was exciting, and I found myself genuinely interested in seeing it. I was prepared for a movie that would consistently find new ways to shock me. While it did keep me on my toes at times, Crawl fails as a whole. Any time the suspense builds up, it is immediately lost by a reminder about the characters and their pasts. Emotionally complex dramas are some of the more rewarding films one can spend their time watching. These stories have their place in Hollywood. But sometimes all we really want is a killer alligator movie.
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