A hurricane hits a small coastal town in Florida leaving competitive swimmer Haley no option but to head home to rescue her father. The only problem is he that is gravely injured, trapped in the family home’s crawl space with a pack of relentless alligators and with floodwaters rapidly encroaching.
"The genre “Crawl” is fittingly associated with has pretty much been played out to the point of exhaustion. Once you know the premise (“The Day After Tomorrow”, “Flood”, “Hard Rain” and “Tidal Wave”) you can guess the storyline."
“Crawl” is your typical disaster movie with very little originality, but instead of dipping into tepid waters with average execution it is overall exceedingly well-executed and has added box office incentive in the form of a bunch of hungry vicious gators. “Crawl” follows a young swimmer called Haley (Kaya Scodelario), who is faced with dire consequences when a hurricane hits her Florida town, her father isn’t answering his cell and everyone is being evacuated. Ignoring the evacuation orders, Haley goes in search of her missing father, Dave (Barry Robert Pepper), who is trapped in the crawl space of the family home, severely injured. Upon discovering her injured father and dragging him to higher ground she quickly realises the strengthening storm isn’t their only problem when she comes face to face with a pack of hungry alligators.
With the floodwaters rapidly rising Haley and her father are left with no choice but to navigate through gator-filled water into the house, up the stairs and into the attic, and thence onto the roof so they can send a distress signal to the authorities.
Now out of the relative safety of the crawl space confines, the bloody adventure, full of gnawing teeth, packs one hell of a mother nature punch, turning the by-the-book disaster movie into an epic creature feature of “Anaconda” proportions. “Crawl”, as I noted above, brings nothing new to the disaster canon formula but it is as skilfully constructed as a movie of this ilk can be. The genre “Crawl” is fittingly associated with has pretty much been played out to the point of exhaustion. Once you know the premise (“The Day After Tomorrow”, “Flood”, “Hard Rain” and “Tidal Wave”) you can guess the storyline. Starting in this case with a hurricane, we know there will be ominous portents of doom on a seemingly ordinary day featuring very ordinary, often bland people, who are being evacuated but decide to ignore the warnings, eventually becoming stranded in an isolated setting, finding united tenderness with each other by the fleeting 35 minute mark just in time for the viewer to witness a character or two become victim to the ferocious weather or creature outside.
“Crawl”, written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen and directed by Alexandre Aja, follows the disaster formula so faithfully that if you walk in while the movie is in progress you can estimate how long the film has left to run by what floor of the property the characters have reached. That is, in itself, a skilful tribute to the filmmakers. Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes”) is a good director that pays attention to the human elements as much as the action. Here we get an open love letter in father-daughter relationships, even in a fiction machine like “Crawl”, and Craig J. Flores, Justin Bursch, Grégory Levasseur, Sam Raimi, Lauren Selig and Andjelija Vlaisavljevic, the producers, are specialists in the humbling aspects of action films (“Hardwired”, “300”, “Spider-Man”, “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Everly”) and horror (“High Tension”, “The Evil Dead” and “Piranha”). The ode to the cataclysmic storm is orchestrated with dynamic SFX that steal the show second to the alligators, which look and feel real for the most of it. In Scodelario and Pepper they have two thespians who play for realism and don’t go over the top, never screaming excessively, not even when a gator locks its jaws of death onto Scodelari’s arm, only releasing after she’s filled its head full of lead. The soundtrack is especially effective in such nail-biting moments and really gears the crowd up for the jump scares, which come ten to the dozen.
The film’s biggest problem is the overfamiliar right of way, right down to the pacing, and the ways in which “Crawl” is simply an old movie in new clothing. For a film like this to work you really have to be caught up in it to begin with. But every time another familiar story element is trotted out (the rescue team become meat for the beasts, they’re back in the water, the dog vanishes, they’re back in the water – again), you’re returned immediately back to reality thanks to the strong smell of the overfamiliar morning coffee kick. I’m not saying that that’s a pitfall to end all pitfalls, but at times it blindly obeys tradition, somebody else’s already set-in-stone tradition, which is thoroughly needless; father, daughter and dog escape by boat, only to get swept right back into the house they are trying to escape from, then have to find another exit method – cue throwaway pun.
Another problem also associated with such films is the forced family soap opera as – you guessed it – the estranged pair find time between the rising water and fighting off gators to reminisce over the past while trying to rebuild for the future while gushing blood all over the shop. As soon as our protégé’s father utters the soul-crushing line “You remember when you were little?” I literally took a bathroom break. There was no need to build on the characters any more than they already had; we knew the father was in self-destruction mode, we also caught up to the fact that, while Haley resented her father, she also loved him dearly (driving into a hurricane gave us that much) and the Sunset Beach flashbacks – just stop, please!
“Crawl” is far more skilled at making you jump than it is at making you care. It’s the perfect summer creature feature with a hurricane in the mix that delivers death and destruction with a smile. There is nothing new here but the screenwriters and director still manage to find novel ways to extend the tension through to the relentless final, pushing the audience to the very edge of their seats. If you want to switch off your brain for 87 minutes and submerge yourself in the cold Florida waters without actually getting wet, this is the movie for you. It’s “Anaconda” on speed, a camp adventure of epic gator proportions.