OnScreen Review: "Crawl"

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  • Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic

It’s been a very interesting summer at the box office. There have been a few standouts and some movies have lived up to expectations, but most of the releases this summer have been all over the map. Crawl is a creature feature thriller that garnered positive reviews from critics but did not muster much attention in theaters its opening weekend. It’s a shame, though, because Crawl is actually a pretty effective thrill ride.

Studios seem to follow patterns when it comes to release dates with their movies, and Crawl follows in the footsteps of some similarly themed mid-summer movies from the last few years. In 2016, we saw The Shallows released around this time of year, and 47 Meters Down in 2017. Both of those were shark movies whereas Crawl is about alligators, but it follows a similar plotline of human beings isolated against a monstrous animal intent on eating them.

In this film, the isolation occurs during a hurricane, when Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a college swimmer, goes to find her father Dave (Barry Pepper), with a hurricane bearing down on the state of Florida. Finding her dad unconscious and with a nasty bite mark on his shoulder, Haley soon realizes that they are not alone as some gators have taken up residence in the crawl space under their old, unoccupied family home, and the two of them have to figure out a way to survive and also get out before the hurricane puts their house under water.

Crawl is not the type of movie that is gunning to be an Oscar contender or even a giant summer blockbuster. It was made on a modest $17 million and the leads of the movie are far from established stars. But it is a movie that knows exactly what it is and what it intends to do, which is entertain and terrify in equal measure. There is some basic family dysfunction involving Haley’s parents divorcing and being angry at her father and thinking it was her fault, but that is secondary to the gators and the script knows that. Everything is ultimately about the immediate threat and survival.

The movie is filled with plenty of scares and jumps and tense moments. I’ve always been a person who is spooked by the notion of “what is lurking beneath the surface?” when it comes to anything involving water. Scenes where characters are wading in water to get somewhere and there is a definite threat out there always make me tense. Add to that any camera angle where an animal or monster is essentially nipping at the heels of someone running or swimming away and that’s always going to generate at least a little bit of squirming in my seat from me. This movie does a good job of teasing those moments and mixing in the scares. It’s not surprising that the movie is produced by Sam Raimi, someone who is a master at this stuff. Director Alexandre Aja is also quite proven as a genre director, having made, among other things, Piranha 3D and High Tension.

Along the lines of knowing what it is, the movie is lean and efficient, clocking in at 87 minutes, which is probably closer to 80 when you remove the credits. There’s very little wasted space here. Scodelario and Pepper are really good and game for the action here. Crawl has just the right amount of creature feature substance and quality thrills to make it an enjoyable and effective summer flick.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars