Kaya Scodelario - Haley Keller
Barry Pepper - Dave Keller
Morfydd Clark - Beth Keller
Ross Anderson - Wayne Taylor
Jose Palma - Pete
Genre - Horror/Natural Disasters/Bad Animals
Running Time - 87 Minutes
With all the negativity going on in the world in the decade known as 2020, I figured I would bring back a feature that was popular a couple of years back - ANIMAL SUMMER. Yes, it’s always been a personal tradition of mine to watch animals running amok on film during the summertime, regardless of how silly these films can be. And right now, silliness of good or bad quality would be helpful to my mental health right now.
First up on the list this year - 2019’s CRAWL. CRAWL is a film I wanted to check out last year when it was released in theaters. It looked like your typical SyFy creature feature but with a much bigger budget. It also had the awesome Alexandre Aja, a director whose profile should be higher in the genre, as well as having Sam Raimi as a producer. As much as I had wanted to see CRAWL last year, I figured it was one of those films probably better waiting for at home, since no one else wanted to see it with me and figured it wouldn’t be worth the $16 for a barely 90-minute movie. Luckily, the film hit Amazon Prime in the United States, finally giving me the chance to check it out. And while the film isn’t perfect, CRAWL is definitely 87 minutes of alligator fun.
PLOT (from IMDB)
Against all logic, the competitive swimmer, Haley (Kacy Scodelario), drives into the mouth of a furiously destructive Category 5 hurricane on a collision course with her hometown of Florida, to check in on her estranged father, Dave (Barry Pepper). There, in their weather-beaten house amid a rapidly sinking and alligator-infested town, Haley and her father find themselves trapped in the labyrinthine mess of their flooded crawl space, where a merciless pair of six-meter predators is silently stalking them. Now - as Haley and Dave are gasping for air in the claustrophobic basement - only their will to survive can help them stand a chance against the scaly adversaries’ powerful jaws. Can they escape without getting eaten alive?
While it’s great to watch the terrible goofiness of most of SyFy’s B-movie catalog, it’s nice to see a B-movie with a good story, good special effects and solid acting like CRAWL. While it’s probably scary for some to see concepts like SHARKNADO, ZOMBEAVERS, and a MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUS fight becoming trending topics within the last few years, CRAWL tries to ground things a bit with a massive Florida hurricane, alligators and looters. And at the heart of the film is a drama between an estranged father and daughter trying to mend fences in order to work together for survival. Sure, it’s there for convenience sake for certain plot devices to work along the way. But it’s nice to see a B-movie actually have a narrative relatable enough for us to care about besides the creature feature action that’s catering to a popcorn audience.
CRAWL’s simple narrative is both a good and a bad thing. The family dynamic is obviously contrived and a trope. Haley doesn’t have a close relationship with her father Dave due to his divorce with her mother that she blames herself for, due to feeling that Dave focused too much on making her a swimming champion which took time away from the marriage. Haley feels that Dave is more of a coach than a dad, which has strained her relationship. It all feels a bit too cliche, and it doesn’t add much depth to either of them beyond “unmotivated, insecure swimming star” who must build herself back up and her “hard-ass, overbearing deadbeat coach-dad”. I guess with all the chaos happening around them, deep characters aren’t necessary. But a lot of work went into creating this relationship through flashbacks and constant discussions about why things went so bad with their family. With two main characters, you might have as well gone all the way with it.
There are also bits where Haley has a estranged relationship with her sister as well, although the sister is just there as a plot device to introduce Dave. And since the film is so focused on Haley and Dave’s dynamic, other characters barely get any time to shine. This includes a trio of looters and a pair of officers - one being Haley’s ex-boyfriend who doesn’t add as much as you’d expect considering their connection. So while the focus on two main characters [and their dog] fuels the drama, it would have been nice if these other players would have had a bigger role and created more drama and tension for our leads.
That being said, CRAWL is more focused on the tension and suspense of the situation. The hurricane backdrop, especially in a state like Florida, is an easy way for an audience to relate to the danger of the situation. Hurricanes are no joke, especially a Category 5. Watching a character reluctantly drive through dangerous rain and winds to make sure a father she barely speaks to is okay not only makes Haley likable, but it adds to the perilous nature of the story when she finds Dave’s home trashed and flooded, with Dave stuck inside a crawlspace stubbornly needing help. A hurricane is bad enough, considering how unpredictable natural disasters are. But then you add in the creatures of the film - a pair of hungry alligators who are looking to take advantage of a bad situation to feed their bellies. CRAWL incredibly succeeds in creating action-filled atmosphere as Haley and Dave have to elude these alligators just to reach the roof of Dave’s home so they can be saved by the National Guard. It’s bad enough they have to outsmart these predators, but it’s made worse during a massive hurricane.
Because of the simplicity of the character narrative, CRAWL is allowed to be a B-movie “animals run amok” flick that’s more grounded than your usual modern fare. Haley has to save herself and her father from a pair of alligators playing a cat-and-mouse game. When they think they outsmart these gators, the animals surprise them along the way, doing more damage than you’d expect to these characters considering they’re the leads. The flashbacks of Haley’s swimming training from her father pop up every few minutes to remind us how the two will probably escape this threat. Like I said, it’s all convenience, but it’s not totally a bad thing. The other characters are nothing but food for these alligators, adding to a decent body count and missing body parts to please horror fans. And I really enjoyed that CRAWL took a somewhat realistic take with the gators, not making them overpowered or supernatural. They are just doing what nature intends them to do, and these poor humans are in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m sure the portrayal of the alligators aren’t completely fact, but it works considering the scenario.
It’s nice to see Alexandre Aja back directing a horror film. He’s one of the few modern horror directors who gets it and always manages to inject fun and humor to his work, so audiences can just enjoy what they’re watching without thinking about things too much. Regardless of what one thinks of the actual films he directed [HAUTE TENSION, 2006’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES, MIRRORS, 2010’s PIRANHA 3D], no one can say that his visual work and style weren’t the highlights of each of those films. CRAWL is a much simpler affair in terms of Aja’s work, as it’s a much more straightforward “killer animal” flick that quickly gets to the point. At a brisk 87 minutes, Aja gets to the point of the matter by thrusting the audience into this hurricane, while slowly revealing that alligators are terrorizing our characters. The film looks great, with a believable picture of a hurricane ravishing a town with realistic rain, floods, and collateral damage. The alligators are CGI, but it’s some of the best CGI I’ve seen in a film like this, as they look and move close to realistically than I would have ever believed. The film doesn’t have as much gore or death scenes as one would expect. In fact, a lot of the deaths happen underneath the water and we don’t really see much besides some loose limbs, bite attacks and blood coloring the water. I appreciate that Aja wanted to class up the joint, but a bit more bloodshed wouldn’t have been too bad. And the best part is that CRAWL flows well, has a quick pace, and doesn’t leave you feeling bored. I’m glad Aja is back behind-the-lens and I hope he continues to do more stuff in the future since CRAWL did pretty well at the box office.
With only two main actors in CRAWL, the film is pretty much carried by Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper. Scodelario, of THE MAZE RUNNER fame, is really great as Haley. She’s smart, tough, and is totally committed to the role. I thought she and Pepper had nice father-and-daughter chemistry as well. Speaking of Barry Pepper, he’s also solid as Dave. Gruff and guilt-ridden, he brings out a lot of vulnerability in his character even when he acts tough. Again, Pepper is completely committed in his role here and makes what’s happening to his character onscreen believable. The other actors play their roles well enough, adding to the narrative by either supporting our leads or being victims to the environment. Scodelario and Pepper could have really winked at the audience and treated this film as a total goof, but they never do, making CRAWL more successful than how it reads on paper.
THE FINAL HOWL
A modern B-movie done right, CRAWL is a lot of creature feature fun. While not deep in its characterizations and dramatic narrative, the use of a massive hurricane and a duo of alligators creates a lot of suspense, tension and action in a grounded way that you won’t be seeing on any SyFy Original anytime soon. Alexandre Aja directs a tense thriller, making the film’s 87 minutes fly by with active characters, alligator violence and plot devices that are convenient, but no less entertaining. The alligators themselves, pretty much full CGI, look amazing for a film like this, moving and acting mostly believably - although the film could have used a bit more gore, as a lot of the violence happens offscreen until the final act really. THE MAZE RUNNER’s Kaya Scodelario is really great as the lead Haley, supported wonderfully by Barry Pepper, as both actors take their roles very seriously and don’t treat the film as a joke. On paper, CRAWL looks like total fluff that most audiences would snub their noses at. But with a great director, fantastic actors, and a breezy story to go along with it, CRAWL is a good popcorn B-movie that deserves your attention if you dig animals running amok.