Crawl (2019)

“No splashing.”

It should go without saying that Crawl – a creature feature and a small-scale disaster film wrapped up into one – requires you to suspend any sense of reason from the very first second through the rest of its 87 minutes. This is fiction that’s been dialed up to 11, and the film is more concerned with earning and eliciting a primal response than it is in passing even the most cursory fact check. Crawl might not have much of a brain or enough heart to match all of its brawn, but that doesn’t mean it’s stupid or callous either. This one has a strong, toothsome bite.

Haley (Kaya Scodelario) aspires to be a collegiate swimmer. Our introduction to her comes during a narrow loss, visibly disappointed that she didn’t touch the wall first. She’s dispirited, and further raining on her parade is news from her sister Beth (Morfydd Clark) that a category 5 hurricane is heading straight for them (that Haley doesn’t already know is the first test for us to ditch logic right out the window). She’s worried about their disillusioned and supposedly often drunk father Dave (Barry Pepper), afraid that he might have fled from his dog and the comfort of his condo to the abandoned family home for safety. Turns out she knows her old man well even though a distance has forged its way in between them.

Dave’s below deck on the property, hiding out from a congregation of hungry alligators that have been swarming and circling the home like aquatic vultures. He’s badly injured, finding safety behind the labyrinth of pipes lining the crawl space, with Haley eventually navigating her way to him. The waters are rising and the allowance left on their shared survival clock is counting down like a ticking time bomb. Crawl makes great use of its facilities in these underground parts of the film. They force reconciliation through two emotive performances, are staged with strong choreography/editing, and offer jump scares without diminishing the dread that comes from not knowing what’s lurking beneath the surface. It’s A level technical work with a standard B-movie plot, and I say that as a compliment.

Where the movie does lose points is in the all too straightforward development of its lead characters. Scodelario and Pepper, reunited from their Maze Runner days, once again work well off of each other but their characters have all the depth of a kiddie pool. And that’s why the presence of the gators is pivotal. This is a surface level story where the threat of danger – here, as usual, representing a growing rift or a gnawing inner emotion – teases us and dares us to make the first move. To leap off the high dive without making so much as a splash. Alexandre Aja’s Crawl might be a thin and rather scant movie, more like a mad dash 50m Freestyle than either of the more challenging Medley races, and yet the movie always has a brash sense of self-confidence that’s backed up by just enough technique. Could a father ever assure his daughter that she can swim faster than an alligator (the faster human ever recorded is less than 6 mph while gators can reach 20 mph) in any other movie than one as clever and brazen and aptly titled as Crawl? I don’t think so.

“We may be stubborn, but we do not give up.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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