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When I first learned that Alexandre Aja, the man behind genre favourites such as Switchblade Romance and The Hills Have Eyes remake, was helming a disaster horror movie, the 18-year-old inside of me lost his mind a little and became consumed by excitement. As a follower of Aja’s career and an avid genre movie fan, Crawl seemed to tick all the boxes – giant alligators, tension, survival and lots of people being dismembered viciously. Having now seen it, does his latest deliver? Kind of.
Crawl opens with aspiring University of Florida swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) receiving a call from her sister living in Boston, Beth (Morfydd Clark), telling her a dangerous hurricane is about to hit the Sunshine State. Advised to get out of Florida, Haley is instead concerned for her father, Dave (Barry Pepper), who she cannot get in contact with. She takes it upon herself to seek out her dad. Unfortunately for Haley, she gets far more than she bargained for.
At Crawl’s core is the relationship between a father and his daughter – one that has pushed Haley all throughout her life to be the best possible athlete she can be. It’s a concept that helps propel Aja’s latest from standard genre fare to an admirable study of human instinct and love. Dave’s obsession with Haley’s swimming has brought them closer and made her resent him slightly. But even with that, Haley loves her father and will do anything to keep him safe. From this comes a horrific fight for survival against some seriously gnarly alligators.
Crawl is extremely fun at times and is confidently made. Yet, something is missing. Aja’s previous disaster horror of this style, Piranha, was an over-the-top popcorn movie that provided laughs, buckets of gore and strangely, some scares. Crawl, however, is almost entirely serious in tone, the solemn vibe detracting from the fun.
Almost every scene inside the family home is drenched in atmosphere and moves slowly. In parts this succeeds brilliantly. However, once you get by the 40-minute mark, the film just follows the same process over and over and can get tedious to endure. Human characters creep around, try their best to stay extremely quiet while trying to navigate around these alligators and end up being halted in their progress almost every time. Instead of feeling like a natural progression reminiscent of movies like Rogue or The Shallows, Crawl ends up becoming a process of elimination.
Throughout the horror, a number of small characters join the fray. Yet, they feel as though they are only injected into the story to act as fodder for these alligators inside the family home. Two police officers appear to provide some form of hope for Haley and her father but very quickly, they strike out with lady luck. The way Crawl progresses feels almost like a video game. There’s always something preventing things from forming naturally and you just must force yourself through it to progress. It’s not all disappointing though as Aja nails some elements within Crawl perfectly.
The alligators are amazing. Yes, they devour and tear limb from limb. But Aja has managed to keep these killers grounded in reality. The truth is when those alligators secure their chance to feed, it’s usually due to silly decision making or just pure misfortune. These alligators don’t destroy everything in their path and become unstoppable killing machines. They are simply hungry and unfortunately for our human characters, they are simply caught in their path.
The score is also superb from Max Aruj and Steffen Thum. The more tense moments in Crawl are always overshadowed by brooding atmosphere and creepy soundscapes. As Haley traverses this house, the score pulsates and shrieks, adding a genuine sense of dread to some encounters throughout the 87-minute run time.
Overall, Crawl is an enjoyable horror movie about the reconnection of a father and his daughter. The menacing alligators take a back seat for this sometimes but it works for the most part. The struggles of Crawl more lie in its tone and its lack of ingenuity regarding plot progression and set pieces. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to shut off their brain, toss all logic overboard and see giant alligators eat people making silly decisions regularly. It’s just a shame it didn’t try embrace these qualities more.