Earlier this week I talked about the tremendously fun The Art of Self-Defense, and specifically discussed a desire to avoid some of the more soulless big budget fare that’s being put out this summer in order to seek out some weirder mid-tier that are rapidly going the way of the dodo. And, to continue on with that trend, I decided to pop back over to the theater this week to check out a strange little horror movie that I’d been hearing shockingly positive things about. The alligator monster movie Crawl! Now, I’d seen the trailers for this movie, and just kind of wrote it off. In general I just don’t seem to connect with killer animal movies the way that some people do, and all the big human vs nature movies that have won people over the last few years have just done nothing for me, kind of like that Shallows movie from a few years ago. And yet, I started to hear some really positive buzz around Crawl, so I decided it was time for a bit more summer escapism, and I went to check out the type of movie that we’re probably less than five years of never seeing in theaters again. And I really lament that, because movies like Crawl are the perfect antidote to any bloated blockbuster fatigue.
Crawl tells the story of a young woman named Haley Keller who learns that a massive hurricane is about to sweep through nearby southern Florida. However, she also learns from her sister that no one has heard from her estranged father, who lives right in the most dangerous path of the hurricane. So, Haley decides to drive back to her hometown to make sure that her father is okay and isn’t doing something stupid. She sneaks by several police barricades, and eventually reaches the sad condo that her dad is living in, only finding his dog Sugar. So, acting on a hunch, Haley brings Sugar back to her childhood home, where she finds her father’s truck. She gets into the house, and eventually finds her father Dave under the house in a large crawl-space, unconscious and covered in strange wounds. And, while trying to rescue him she comes across the source of the wounds. A large alligator has gotten under the house, and had attacked Dave, leading him to seek refuge in a small corner where the gator couldn’t reach. So, Haley is now trapped in the crawl space with her severely injured father, as the hurricane finally comes rolling in, slowly flooding the crawlspace.
What follows is the cinematic equivalent of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, with Haley and Dave continuing to find possible ways out of their predicament, only for it all to come crashing down. They attempt to sneak past the gator to get Haley’s phone to call for help only to find a second gator waiting for them. They attempt to get the attention of some rednecks robbing a gas station across the street, only to watch them get devoured by yet more alligators lurking around the area. Some police officers happen to show up after Haley got their attention driving bast their barricades, but they both get devoured. They find a way back into the house, only to find that Dave put something too heavy on the door so they can’t use it. Finally though, Haley is able to escape the crawlspace by swimming through the same drainage pipe that the gators used to get there in the first place, and is able to free her father by breaking through the floorboards. And, after several more failed experiments, some more gator attacks that result in some missing limbs, they finally get to the roof of their house, flagging down a rescue copter and finally leaving this cursed alligator-filled house.
Crawl is a very simple movie. It’s full of jump scares and features a plot that’s basically just a series of increasingly ridiculous obstacles, getting more and more outlandish as the film goes on. And, it’s a hell of a good time. Movies like this really live or die by the strength of their creative teams, and this movie really lucked out by getting creators who know what they’re doing, and who are able to maintain a through-line of tension which so easily could have gone wrong. At so many points this film could have fallen apart, just one jump scare too many, or one ridiculous plan failing spectacularly could have pushed it over the edge, and yet the film maintains an exciting pace throughout, presenting a really impressive feat of tension film-making. It’s a film that relies on the pure, unadulterated fear that humans would naturally have towards alligators, and packs it into a tightly paced, claustrophobic little movie that just pays off from start to finish. It’s tight as a drum, basically exactly as long as it needs to be, and full of some really wonderful scares and moments of pure dread.
And, all the while, we also get a whole lot of insight into these two characters. Every now and then, between failed attempts to flee the crawlspace, Haley and Dave would just kind of take a breather, plan their next escape, and talk about the numerous issues that led them to becoming estranged. Essentially boiling down to Haley being worried that her skills at swimming and Dave’s pressure on her was what resulted in Dave’s divorce from Haley’s mother. Because, while they certainly are trying absolutely everything they possibly can to survive this experience, it also seems like this may be their last moments on Earth, so what’s to keep them from airing their dirty laundry and finally just getting down to the bottom of their issues. Which, I found kind of fascinating. Even if you think you had a stellar relationship with your parents, there’s always some things that would probably become cathartic to talk about, but that you never would really want to do so. But, when you’re trapped in a horror movie plot, where death seems almost certain, then it makes perfect sense to give into an impromptu therapy session. Seems pretty freeing.
Crawl was written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, directed by Alexandre Aja, and released by Paramount Pictures, 2019.
Categories: Reel Talk