Crawl (2019) – Movie Review
Crawl stars Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper and was directed by Alexandre Aja. It tells the story of Haley Keller, a Florida college swimmer played by Kaya Scodelario, who goes to check on her estranged father, played by Barry Pepper, during a Category 5 hurricane. The storm finds them trapped in the basement crawl space of their house, battling gator-infested rising floodwaters.
Crawl is a movie that’s extremely familiar, yet surprisingly refreshing. As far as creature features go, the film really doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before (other than the hurricane setting, of course) and I did find myself correctly predicting nearly every major plot beat throughout. But despite that predictability, I found the film to be surprisingly fresh and entertaining. We certainly haven’t had a shortage of creature features in recent years, but a large part of what sets Crawl apart from the rest is its fairly serious tone. We live in the era of Sharknado and other similar SyFy channel movies, so when-animals-attack movies have largely drifted from being straight horror to being very self-aware, tongue-in-cheek horror comedy.
Now there’s nothing wrong with that and I love horror comedy, but Crawl’s more-serious tone makes it feel fresh, despite actually being a throwback to a bygone era. One thing horror movies frequently fail at is developing solid characters you actually care about. All too often movies like this craft extremely shallow stereotypical characters to serve as dinner for the film’s true star: the creature. Crawl certainly gives the alligators plenty of time to shine, but the two lead human characters are clearly intended to be the stars.
The film wants you to like them and wants you to root for them as opposed to the gators. And so, the first act of this surprisingly short film is almost exclusively dedicated to building up these characters as real people. We get insight into the strained relationship between Haley and her father as well as plenty of foreshadowing regarding Haley’s swimming prowess. So, while I imagine some people will think the first twenty minutes drag some, I appreciated the attempt to make us care for these characters. It’s a little simplistic and cheesy and I frequently found myself more concerned for the dog’s wellbeing throughout the film, but the character development was still done much better here than in other similar films.
Another standout aspect of this film was its tension. Although a bit overly convenient at times (or inconvenient, as the case may be), there isn’t anything supernatural about this story. As a natural horror creature feature, it presents a premise that could be feasible, which makes it a lot easier for us as the audience members to imagine ourselves in the situation, especially with the relatable and decently developed characters. That in itself provides some tension, but then you add in the claustrophobic basement setting and that tension is ratcheted up to a whole new level.
It’s dark, it’s unfamiliar, and it’s quite literally crawling with creatures that want to eat you. The hurricane plot device (which is admittedly a little silly at points) adds a race-against-the-clock element as well. Not only are these characters trapped in a confined space with alligators, but that confined space is also flooding with murky water. Less serious films could’ve repeatedly lost their tension with silly jokes strewn throughout the film, but Crawl mostly maintains its tension from the moment Haley arrives at the house until the credits roll. I do say ìmostlyî for a reason though.
Rather than moments of levity, the tension in this film is dampened by frequent moments of eye-rolling stupidity on the characters’ parts. Now I know, stupid decisions are par for the course with most horror films. Characters either make dumb decisions that put them into a situation or make dumb decisions that keep them in a situation. In the case of Crawl, both of these scenarios are applicable.
It didn’t diminish my enjoyment all that much though. After all, if these characters made smart choices, we wouldn’t have had a movie at all. But, it is a bit tough to stay fully invested in the moment and the tension when you can see the obvious course of action a character should take that they’re apparently completely oblivious to. The injuries the characters sustain also fall into this taking-you-out-of-the-moment category too. This was a surprisingly brutal and gory film that doesn’t shy away from showing you the effects that gators can have on the human body.
But the degree of injuries some characters sustain, with very little long-lasting impact on their movement capabilities, is more than ridiculous. At its core, Crawl isn’t anything you haven’t already seen a dozen times. The decision to combine a creature feature with a disaster movie is something we’ve seen ad nauseum in the last five years alone, but the fairly serious tone sets this film apart from the others in its cohort.
Although it’s nothing new, Crawl manages to recapture the seemingly-forgotten style of natural horror films from the 70s and 80s, effectively giving us the impression that it’s actually a fresh take on the genre. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. The biggest pro is definitely the tension. For a movie as predictable as this is, the amount of suspense and tension is truly noteworthy. From the moment Haley arrives at the house, you’re sucked in and on the edge of your seat. There are moments of brief levity, but the primarily serious tone and decently developed characters keep you engaged with the situation.
Creatures lurking in the dark with the ability to jump out at any point introduces quite a bit of inherent tension, but combing that with the time-element provided by the Category 5 hurricane bearing down on them does wonders for enhancing that tension. The viscerality of the situation and its consequences results in a movie completely full of teeth and tension. As far as the cons go, this film’s biggest issue is a fairly obvious one: stupid character choices. This movie’s actually a bit deceptive on this point. The initial premise is obviously set-up as the result of some very dumb decisions, but the characters still manage to make some seemingly smart choices towards the beginning. Things like using boxes as barricades or calculating the rate the water’s rising.
But then they do such stupid things that it all but negates whatever hints of logic they showed before. I’m not gonna get into these situations cause I want to keep this spoiler-free, but there were three or four major points in the movie where they completely avoided the obvious smart choice that could’ve gotten them out of the situation. Again, you can’t fault a horror movie too much for that, but it was still frustrating and a bit distracting for me. My second con is the repetitiveness.
This movie’s less than an hour and a half long, yet it managed to repeat a handful of plot points and tropes over and over again in that short time period. The aforementioned stupid decisions certainly had a big hand in this, but even when the characters were being somewhat smart and proactive, they just couldn’t catch a break. Every time there was a glimmer of hope, something would happen that would plunge them into a situation that was even worse than before.
The first one, two, three times that happens, fine: it’s a horror movie, can’t make it too easy for them. But by the sixth instance of that, you’re sitting there watching as things are starting to look up for them thinking ìWhat stupid thing is gonna happen now that oh, uh, yup.î I’m gonna give Crawl 3 out of 5 paws. It’s nothing new or exceptionally unique, but as a fun, tense summer creature feature, it gets the job done. I would recommend Crawl to fans of serious-toned natural horror films and creature features.
It’s got the tension reminiscent of similar films from the 70s and 80s, but definitely still falls into the common pitfalls of modern horror films. If an alligator-attack movie set during a hurricane sounds utterly absurd to you, then you might want to skip this one, but if you’re a fan of when-animals-attack type movies, I’d imagine you’ll enjoy certain aspects of this film, at the very least.
If you liked Crawl, I would recommend The Shallows for another tense, serious-toned creature feature. That film involves sharks and isn’t as claustrophobic, but certainly still employs the time-based trapped plot element. If you want more alligator action, be sure to check out Lake Placid. It definitely takes a more comedic route that this film, but is still a solid horror movie. And if you like the idea of a hurricane being used as a plot device, I’d recommend The Hurricane Heist. It’s not a horror film, but uses a hurricane in as convenient of a way as this film does. Think Fast and Furious crossed with X, set during a B-disaster movie. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Crawl? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite horror movie set in a basement?