Let’s be honest, it’s hard to enter the new movie “Crawl” without some level of snark and skepticism. I mean we are talking about people being terrorized by man-eating alligators during a Category 5 hurricane. On concept alone it would be easy to dismiss as a throwaway B-movie maybe worth renting after you’ve seen everything else in your local Redbox.
But oh how I love it when a movie surprises me. “Crawl” has no ambitions of being anything other than what it is. It just does what it does incredibly well. It’s a tightly-wound, no-nonsense thriller; a throwback creature-feature that utilizes every second of its lean 88-minute runtime.
The first hint that this could actually be pretty good was seeing Sam Raimi’s name attached. He produces alongside the film’s writer/director Alexandre Aja. Their story is light but their characters are given a surprising amount of depth considering how much time they spend in peril. Family dynamics are laid out and we get enough personal stakes to make us genuinely care about them.
Kaya Scodelario drives the movie with an intensely committed lead performance. She plays Haley, a swimmer for the University of Florida who gets a call from her concerned sister who hasn’t been able to reach their father (played by Barry Pepper). He isn’t answering his phone and with a massive hurricane bearing down his window to evacuate is shrinking.
Haley agrees to check on her dad before she leaves town. She discovers him injured in a crawlspace underneath their old family lake house. It doesn’t take long for her to find out what caused his injury – a massive alligator under the house lurking in the shadows. Trapped there with her father, a growing number of gators, and rising flood waters from the hurricane sets the table for a tension-soaked (and sometimes bloody) survival-horror thrill ride.
One of the first things to impress me was Aja’s camera particularly when shooting in tight spaces. For a movie like this it’s imperative that the audience feel they are in those spaces with the characters. The danger needs to feel palpable. Aja’s camera pulls us in with great effect whether he’s shooting in claustrophobic spaces below the house or giving us tense underwater shots. Combine that with fantastic work from production designer Alan Gilmore who offers up some visually impressive and thoroughly convincing storm effects.
“Crawl” works well because it embraces its simplicity and sticks to its premise. There’s no needless filler or pointless melodrama. Instead we get exciting thrills, economic storytelling, and just enough character development to make us care. And with such good visual technique and devoted central performances, you can’t help but be immersed regardless of how silly the whole thing sounds.
VERDICT – 4 STARS