Director: Alexandre Aja
Review: RJ Bland
Crocodiles. They're kind of like the shark's slightly younger and less threatening younger brother when it comes to water-based horror movies aren't they? Yeah crocodiles (and alligators) are big and prehistoric looking and they do that horrible death spin thing when they lock their jaws onto something – but they've always swam in the shadow of the great sharks from films like Jaws (1975) and – more recently - 47 Metres Down (2018). Logically it doesn't make much sense though as a hundred times more people are killed by crocs than sharks every year. But hey, horror doesn't always operate in the territory of what is real and what isn't. The fact remains that Shark movies generally get a bit more attention. That's not to say we haven't had some decent croc horror movies over the years. Lake Placid (1999) was fun and Rogue (2007) was pretty damn good but it's been a while since we've been treated to much reptilian horror...until now!
In the same vein that Sharknado (2013) mixed extreme weather conditions with hundreds of sharks, Alex Aja's 'Crawl' combines the natural destruction of a hurricane with a bunch of alligators. Aspiring swimmer Hayley (Kaya Scodelario) ignores advice from state police to leave Florida despite the warnings of a category 5 hurricane that is heading her way as her father is not answering his phone and she's concerned something might have happened to him. Turns out, she's bang on the money. When she arrives at her old family house she finds her dad's dog, Sugar, but no sign of her dad. However once she descends into the crawl space underneath the house she discovers her injured – and unconscious – father. However as she tries to drag him to safety, she is stopped in her tracks by a couple of alligators who have found their way down there through the storm drain. As the oncoming hurricane intensifies the water levels continue to rise, Hayley and her father must try and navigate their way out of there before they drown – or worse – become alligator food...
French director Alex Aja has made a couple of top notch American movies since his stand out debut feature 'High Tension' back in 2003. His remake of The Hills Have Eyes (2006) was a grimy and full-on gorefest whilst Piranha 3D (2010) was equally as gory albeit with tongue firmly placed in cheek. Aja has of course recorded a couple of missteps during this period too however, with both Mirrors (2006) and Horns (2013) failing to win over audiences and critics alike. 'Crawl' however, firmly belongs in the former – it's a blast from start to finish.
If there is one thing that the Frenchman knows how to manage, it's tension.You know what's scarier than alligators? Alligators during a hurricane. You know what's scarier than that? If you are trapped in a basement where the water levels are rising with a compound leg fracture and no mobile phone. The film may be high concept but the story is actually relatively confined and claustrophobic. Unlike the open waters of shark-based horror movies, the action here predominantly takes place underneath the family home and although the alligators are big, the lack of light and water levels make it pretty difficult to tell where they are. These aren't the kind of monsters you can run – or swim – away from very easily either.
The restricted setting and situation also acts as a neat place for father and daughter to thrash out their feelings and issues. Hayley isn't on the best of terms with her father (Barry Pepper) since he divorced her mother and although the ensuing relationship arc threatens to be a bit cheesy on occasions, it is actually well done and that's mainly down to Scodelario and Pepper who both inject lot of intensity and heart into their performances. Life or death situations often lead to reconciliations (well, in the movies they do at least) and the human story amidst all the alligator fun never detracts from proceedings, it merely makes us more loathe to see them get ripped to pieces. They're both flawed but likeable, which is all you are after really. Their resourcefulness and scrappiness makes them pretty endearing from the get go.
But truth be told what makes this movie a success is just how effective it is at keeping you on the edge of your seat. There's something admirable about a film that just wants to give you 90 minutes or so of thrills and action. 'Crawl' also doesn't hold back in terms of violence either. People are torn apart in quite graphic ways and there's one death scene in particular that's pretty harrowing just because of how bloody prolonged it is. Barring one minor incident, characters don't make stupid decisions either which makes the slightly absurd set up feel a little more plausible.
Some might see the whole thing as a glossy big budget B-movie. They also might frown at the ability of our hero's strength and resilience to gator bites. But just go with it and you'll have a lot of fun.