Review: Crawl

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Director: Alexandre Aja

Writers: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen

Composers: Max Aruj, Steffen Thum

Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper

Genre: Action, Adventure, Horror

As an Australian (and leaning on the stereotype because that’s always fun), I’m no stranger to dangerous wildlife. Killer snakes, birds, spiders, jellyfish, drop bears, octopus–we have it all! Sharks usually take the limelight, both in the news and cinema. Yet while Jaws made the world think twice about entering the ocean, for Australians it’s the rivers, lakes, and creek beds in the Top End that deserve a wide berth. Some say that crocodilians are literally a hundred times more lethal than a shark. So out of all of Australia’s deadly wildlife, they’re the ones that demand the most respect.

Yet despite being such a fearsome animal, it still hasn’t managed to really make its mark on cinema. We’re still waiting for the crocodilian version of Jaws, though the classic film has set an almost unattainably high bar. Judging from the movie’s unintentionally comedic premise, Crawl is unlikely to be that film. But can it at least be the best crocodilian-centric movie we’ve seen thus far? Maybe I’m just biased, but at the moment, Rogue is in the top spot–can it be beat?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: This is a horror film. It therefore intends to scare its audience. Alligators repeatedly attack humans throughout the movie. We witness a person completely torn apart by alligators. There is a close up of a character’s arm being ripped off. Shots of grossly bleeding open wounds. Close-ups on a compound fracture, which is painfully splint back into its rightful position. A nest of spiders opens on top of a person’s face. A bloated floating corpse of a human is seen, along with rotting animal carcasses. A character drowns. Humans attack alligators in self-defense, using blunt force trauma, guns, or stabbing it to death. There are numerous jump scares throughout the film. It’s also set during a hurricane; we see houses being damaged by high winds.

Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb and the s-word are dropped frequently, mostly muttered as an exclamation in response to surprising events. God’s name is used in vain. Minor swear words such as b*tch.

Drug/Alcohol References: None.

Sexual Content: No nudity. One scene is set inside a woman’s change room. A character changes out of her swimwear and into regular clothes, though all that is seen during this sequence is her bare shoulders.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Content: Looters are seen taking advantage of the evacuated streets because of the incoming hurricane.

Positive Content: This movie focuses on the importance of repairing and rekindling familial bonds. It also sends the message of believing in oneself, demonstrating a healthy competitive spirit that leads to self-improvement.

Review

It feels redundant to review a film like Crawl. There’s no big secret to the type of experience it’s offering. Deep down, you know if you’re in the market of watching killer alligators, and Crawl provides exactly that. It’s schlocky yet competent. Oddly fun in a morbidly fascinating way. It pairs well with popcorn. Light, disposable–saying whether it’s bad or excellent doesn’t actually change people’s minds about whether to see it or not. This is a genre where quality isn’t always the deciding factor as to the film’s greatness.

If that’s all you’re looking for in a film, then you’re good to go! No need to analyze it further. You can stop reading this review now. You’ll have a blast!

Crawl delivers exactly what you expect. Those familiar with the monster horror sub-genre will instinctively know that the movie’s trailer says it all. Forget the proper synopsis. These movies all play out the same. A handful of characters with a flimsy backstory find themselves stuck in a contained environment with a dangerous animal. Insert a couple of disposable individuals that haplessly try to rescue them (whilst simultaneously breaking up the stagnancy of the plot), and soon we’re left with the protagonist dealing with their internal conflict in order to overcome the monster.

This story has been done. A lot. It’s so cliché that the marketing team feel comfortable in revealing all this information in its advertising. There are no real spoilers here. All that’s really left out is whether or not the heroes perish at the end. Monster movies will always habitually follow the same formula, which makes the real question not about who survives, but rather what Crawl offers that hasn’t been covered before?

Tone and scope are the two main factors that Crawl’s story can have fun with manipulating. Focusing first on the former, the concept of alligators attacking people in their flooded house during a hurricane is borderline dumb. Well, it’s plausible–there have been real life incidences of alligators terrorizing residents when floodwaters have risen. On the other hand, the combination of a natural disaster and highly aggressive animals sounds awfully a lot like Sharknado.

Yet those who were pleasantly surprised by Rampage should know that sometimes silly storylines can be wildly entertaining. It all depends on the tone. Fellow American alligator flick, Lake Placid, developed a wonderful tongue-in-cheek style that allowed the audience to ignore some of the film’s flaws.

Crawl is not that type of movie. It’s serious. All serious. There are no light-hearted moments. There is no comedic relief. It wants to be treated as a straight-up horror flick. Yet in exchange for wanting to be taken seriously, it means it takes less to break the audience’s suspension of disbelief. “It’s just movie” is not an excuse any more. Seriousness requires more elements of realism.

Unfortunately Crawl pushes those boundaries one too many times, snapping the audience out of the world of its story. There are many niggling issues with the alligators’ behavior. Like the carnivorous dinosaurs in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, they always seem to be snappy and ready for a nibble, even in fast-flowing hurricane-whipped waters. But a quick shot of a nearby nest offers a quick patch up job in explaining away their antics. Okay, we’ll roll with it.

Yet the hurricane-force winds only appear to be a problem when it’s convenient for the plot. Then there’s a theory introduced halfway through the film about how they could potentially navigate the alligator-infested floodwaters safely, which seemingly didn’t apply earlier to the movie’s previous victims. It flouts its own rules. The biggest offender to the film’s desired plausibility is the growing list of injuries. There’s only so much you can accept before it becomes too farfetched, ripping you out of the story so you can mentally yell at the screen, “Yeah right! As if!”

It also doesn’t help to grow up alongside Steve Irwin, where wondering why they weren’t simply jumping on top of the alligators for the first third of the movie is a completely normal thought process.

Crawl awkwardly straddles that middle ground between respectable horror and guilty pleasure. However it still manages to be an entertaining film. Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper brilliantly carry the story, with their characters more fleshed out than other schlocky animal horrors like 47 Meters Down. Yet it doesn’t fall into the “so bad it’s good” guilty pleasure category like Alexandre Aja’s previous film, Piranhas 3D. Crawl is not a bad movie (and no, not entertainingly bad in the way some people might have wanted), but it’s also not good enough to elevate itself above other films in its sub-genre.

Lured by the runaway success of Wolf Creek, Australia released two crocodile films during its obsession with the horror genre in the late 2000s. Black Water (2007) features the one of the most realistic crocodilian stories committed to screen (probably because it’s more rooted to its real life events compared to the others), whereas the criminally underrated Rogue (also 2007) masters more of the horror movie staples. Unlike Lake Placid, both films take the serious route. Both films are set in a confined area. Both films operate like a giant game of “the floor is lava.” So how does Crawl compete in the same market?

Short answer: it doesn’t.

You’re kidding yourself if you think an alligator can’t get her from that position.

Both Rogue and Black Water are better at holding their suspension of disbelief, their characterization and tension. Yet what Crawl offers that is unique is its scope. Rogue and Black Water centre around only one crocodilian creature whilst Crawl features an entire neighbourhood full of them. However it never capitalizes on its unique characteristics.

Visualise playing “the floor is lava” with your entire suburb. Crawl had that potential–to branch out into a more epic nature, with a horrific ordeal rivalling The Impossible. Imagine a water version of Tremors. Yet the screenwriters seemed intent on keeping it a monster in the house story. Apart from a few preventable slipups at the start (which terribly spiral into an even worse situation), the characters in Crawl don’t make too many silly decisions. Rather it’s the story itself that is contrived, leaving the characters to helplessly react to compounding unbelievable problems.

As forced as the scenario becomes, there is something incredibly intriguing about sharing your own home with a lethally dangerous animal. Unlike being stuck up a tree (Black Water) or on a sandbar (Rogue), it’s a more intimate and territorial setting. Try as it might, Crawl never succeeds in making the house its own character. Alexandre Aja does well to establish the layout, though there’s never the sense the characters are fully utilizing their knowledge of the area to their advantage. It’s a story that could have lent itself to more Home Alone style escapades, but alas the film is more basic with its problem solving skills.

The film not only underutilizes the story’s inherent strengths, but it also falls victim to its weaknesses. Upping the number of alligators doesn’t necessarily equate to a scarier experience. It’s like Alien and Aliens; just one creature is enough to create tension, but the more that’s added, the more action-based the narrative instinctually becomes. For a horror film set in one location, a lot of stuff happens. It’s entertaining in that regard. However, since it’s a busy plot filled with jump scares, it never truly builds up the anxiety-driven suspense it desires whenever there’s a close up of the water’s edge. Rogue and Black Water just nail that aspect better.

Honestly, we all know Crawl isn’t aiming for an Oscar here. Yet we can still hope for a film that’s striving for the upper echelon of B-grade horror like The Descent or for something that’s stupidly entertaining like The Meg. Crawl sits in the middle of the spectrum. Horror aficionados will find the scares predictable and the story grossly familiar, though satisfyingly entertaining nonetheless. Those with less experience may still connect with the movie’s light suspense.

Positives

+ Performances + Not horrendously stupid + Competent filmmaking + Lots of alligator attacks, if that's all you want + Decent popcorn flick + Fun

Negatives

- Contrived narrative - Has the opportunity to explore something new in the genre but never does - Unrealistic reactions to injuries that eventually break the suspension of disbelief - Takes itself seriously - Past horror films have taken the same concept and done it better

The Bottom Line

If all you want is to see ‘gators, then Crawl will meet your needs. Add two extra points to the score if that’s the case. Yet in regards to originality, it’s a B movie that had the opportunity to scribble on a blank page instead of painting by the numbers with its plot. Crawl delivered what we expected, but unfortunately that means it isn’t anything new. Australian cinema already beat them to it.

 

6.8

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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