Movie Review: Crawl Pairs a Hurricane With Giant Alligators for Scary Fun
Howling winds! Floodwaters! Rabid alligators everywhere! It’s Florida!
Crawl is an unexpectedly excellent disaster thriller produced by Sam Raimi and directed by French horror film vet Alexandre Aja, who helmed 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes. It’s a simple plot: Alligators have trapped athletic swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her dad Dave (Barry Pepper) in the crawl space beneath their old house during a Category 5 hurricane. A good chunk of the film happens entirely in that space as they race to escape the alligators before the whole place gets flooded in.
It’s a refreshing break from formulaic big-budget blockbusters, and with thrillers like this, you’re never really sure who’s going to make it out alive. Aja expertly utilizes the cramped setting to instill palpable claustrophobia. The alligators are lumbering, menacing, and devoid of the unnaturally smooth and rapid movements that are the common hallmark of CGI movie beasties. They're also unnaturally large, but they work and boy, do they make for some great fun.
The film treats a Category 5 hurricane as just another rainy weekend and it’s a damning statement against how people have taken for granted just how messed up the environment has gotten. The sunny retirement state has, in recent years, been under constant threat of coastal flooding thanks to the effects of climate change.
Alligators as a plot device to move things along in what might as well be an honest-to-goodness disaster movie are subversive and clever. It’s a national-level emergency having to evacuate pretty much all of Southern Florida, so why are we watching a father and daughter fend of alligators again? Oh, because it’s so much more fun.
Add the fact that this is Florida and Floridians need to be true to their hard-earned online reputation for always being in the running for the Darwin awards. Characters keep making stupendously boneheaded decisions throughout the movie which is the perfect recipe for truly entertaining disaster horror. You know nothing good can come out of their choices, from Haley’s brave but incredibly foolish decision to look for her dad in a flooded and evacuated area (morally the correct decision since Dave was actually trapped there, but not any less boneheaded) to trying all sorts of escapes instead of heading to higher ground like most sane people.
The film normalizes a devastating hurricane, using it merely as a backdrop for a deadly alligator infestation. Necessarily, it also sets the stage for Haley and Dave’s emotional reconciliation. The opening sequence dramatically preambles their strained relationship as Haley, a talented swimmer who falls short of her potential, flashes back to memories of her hard-driving coach-slash-dad yelling in her ear. “What are you?” he asks. “I’m an apex predator!” Haley yells back. Sure, Haley. Tell that to the gators hungry for a Floridian buffet.
Ironically, Florida doesn't actually get too many alligator attacks. Alligators try to stay away from humans, but the film’s premise is also a tongue-in-cheek warning: Climate change might just change all that, and the rising floodwaters may just embolden your typically reticent reptiles into brazen savagery. This is only part of what makes Crawl such a good film. There’s the sinking realization that someday Florida may well be evacuated and uninhabitable. It’s a sobering reminder that the world is changing and there might not be anything we can do to stop it. The alligator party is just a bonus.
Aja skillfully paces the jump scares and they're never truly predictable despite the fact that you’re conditioned to expect them every time the camera pans into a dark corner or still water. Never mind that the main characters have unnaturally high survivability or that they don’t immediately bleed to death despite being gnawed on by a 15-foot-long gator. Attribute it to the adrenaline rush, and there’s a lot of that going on in this expertly crafted thriller.
Crawl is a refreshing, exhilarating watch with a bit of a melodramatic emotional core. It’s forgivable because Haley and Dave feel like real characters you can cheer for and this raises the stakes when an alligator has its jaws clamped on their body parts. The pair try to survive alligators and a hurricane in this raucous ride with a high body count, plentiful tense moments, and a veiled admonition against the dangers of climate change.
Crawl is now showing in movie theaters.