Review: ‘Crawl’, Killer Gators And Deadly Hurricanes Make For Sharp Summer Thrills

If I have nightmares of Category-5 hurricanes and killer alligators, it’s all Alexandre Aja’s fault.  My two biggest fears are enclosed spaces and deep water. Crawl has both in abundance. Let’s just say I was deeply uncomfortable the entire time.

I loved it.

Aja has banked his career on scaring the crap out of us, with High Tension a high water mark (pun intended for this waterlogged flick), The Hills Have Eyes his most notable entry in the horror genre, and others such as Horns and Mirrors. He’s even taken on another primeval denizen of the deep with the bloody and campy Piranha 3D, so he’s in somewhat familiar territory here. But Crawl is an altogether different beast made all the more terrifying by its simplicity.

Take two people: competitive swimmer Haley (played by the always-excellent Kaya Scodelario), and her estranged father Dave (Barry Pepper), trapped in a house with their loyal canine during an epic hurricane that has evacuated most of the state of Florida. Oh, and there are giant alligators that have managed to swim their way inside.  So what’s the bigger threat? Drowning from the raging flood waters? Or becoming gator food? Actually, both are pretty damned likely, Clearly, Mother Nature has it out for both of them. This is what they get for not getting out of town with the surprisingly sane Floridians who did.

Aja thrusts you deep into the murky, rising waters of a crumbling, cavernous prison where a hungry gator could pop out from the depths at any moment. The tension stays at a constant boil throughout, as Aja and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre use darkness and shadow to maximum effect, hiding the scaly carnivores behind rusty pipes and under thick, disgusting water filled with carcasses. You’ll want to take a shower when this one is over, every frame is so grimy and gross.

Every step Haley takes to try and rescue her previously-injured father is, of course, pregnant with all manner of family tension.  While human characterization isn’t nearly as deep as the flood waters, screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen efficiently hammer out a few details to puff up what is basically a B-level monster flick. We quickly learn that Haley became a swimmer at the behest of her demanding father, and lately she’s been struggling to stay focused. Meanwhile, he’s unable to move on after divorcing Haley’s mother, a situation that has torn the family apart. Some shortcuts are taken in making Haley a fast swimmer and Dave a construction worker who knows the entire house’s structure brick-by-brick, but one of the things Crawl does really well is keep itself free of too much emotional baggage. Is it formulaic? Absolutely; the story ebbs and flows exactly the direction we expect, but the formula works when the performances and aesthetics are top notch.

With every moment that passes, Haley and Dave’s situation grows more dire, and Aja keeps the stakes soaring. The gators are slow on land and can’t hear over the heavy downpour, but as the water level rises they gain a greater advantage. This leads to more desperate actions being taken to escape, which only makes each moment all the more thrilling. Crawl is indeed very violent, including one of the most heinous dismemberments I’ve ever seen on screen, but the gore isn’t excessive. The damage this movie does is mostly psychological, and if you’re like me with very specific phobias it’s going to make you think twice about paying the Sunshine State a visit. With shark movies becoming more prevalent again lately, Crawl makes a shockingly convincing case that maybe it’s the gators we should be worrying about.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5