There are two ways to assess a movie like Crawl: You can take it at face value and judge whether it’s the best alligator-attack-in-a-flooded-crawlspace-during-a-hurricane movie it can be, or you can just be as clever as possible making fun of the very idea of a movie about a college swimmer and her dad trapped with killer gators in an evacuated Florida suburb.
There are two ways to make a movie like Crawl: You can take it seriously from beginning to end, and try to make the most suspenseful hand-to-snout combat movie ever, or you can acknowledge the absurdity with winks to the audience and moments of humor.
Alligators may have two sets of eyelids, but there’s no winking in Crawl. It’s fully committed to its own skewed realism and humor is washed away with the torrents of rain. You have to respect horror B-movie producer-director Alexandre Aja’s devotion to his material, so I’ll not resort to gator puns and verbal elbowing to assess his work.
The premise is simple and takes just 20 minutes to get the leads into the crawlspace with waters rising. Our heroine is Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a competitive swimmer urged by her far-away older sister to drive into a hurricane to locate their father, Dave (Barry Pepper). She finds him, unconscious, in the not-quite-a-basement of their otherwise-deserted family home next to a waterway. Along with at least two alligators.
The neighborhood is long evacuated, the storm is raging, the water’s rising and the levee’s about to collapse. Can Haley’s ingenuity and swimming skills, urged on by her dad and former coach, save the day?
Not without a lot of suffering along the way. A few other folks wander into the gators’ vicinity, at least one of whom is torn limb from limb on camera, and Haley and Dave don’t fully avoid all those claws and teeth. But like good action movie heroes, injuries only hurt temporarily before everyone is back at near full power.
Crawl doesn’t belabor the premise too much — it’s just 80 minutes or so before the credits roll, to the tune of Bill Haley & His Comets’ “See You Later, Alligator” — and scene by scene the suspense is well maintained. There’s just enough blood and guts to secure an R rating but not so much as to seem gratuitous. Scodelario (from the Maze Runner movies) does a respectful job, and the combination of animatronics and CG effects create some credible gators.
There’s still no there there, really, except a shameless attempt to wring some cash out of audiences who have supported other recent woman-versus-big-teeth movies like The Shallows and 47 Meters Down. (A sequel to 47 Meters Down, sadly not called 48 Meters Down, is due out next month.) The movie was produced on the cheap, with Serbia standing in for Florida, but it’s a fully professional effort and wastes no resources on back story or a coda. You’re in for the gators and out in time for a leisurely dinner. May I suggest the fried alligator?
Okay, so just one verbal elbow in Crawl’s scaly ribs.
Grade: C-plus. Rated R. Playing at AMC River Hills, Carolina Cinemark and Regal Biltmore Grande.
(Photo: Paramount Pictures)