There’s always something fun about a lower-brow B-horror movie coming out during the summer to give audiences a little escapism without the added pressures of a $150 million budget or previous movies demanding comparisons. Directed by Alexandra Aja — who has already had his share of summer B-movie fun with 2010’s Piranha 3D — and produced by Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), Crawl has every potential of being the bad kind one of these movies. When it frequently makes efforts to elevates itself above just being a tongue-in-cheek monster movie, you wonder whether going into it with lowered expectations helped… or maybe it really is a decent movie?
Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner movies) is Haley Keller, a competitive swimmer at the University of Florida – the “Gators,” no less! – who fears for the safety of her father (Barry Pepper) when a Category 5 hurricane is heading his way. She finds him almost comatose in the basement of their old house with an alligator circling, but the water being dumped by the hurricane makes things progressively worse as Haley and her father are trapped there.
It’s a pretty simple premise, one that allows Aja to create incredible amounts of tension as well as throwing more than a few jump scares at the audience, but it’s definitely better than your average Syfy Channel killer animal movie.
Much of that comes down to the filmmaker’s commendable motive to bring more depth to the two central characters rather than merely introducing them as eventual alligator fodder. There are plenty of other characters chomped to bits by the movie’s terrifyingly lifelike gators, and the movie offers more than a few gory kills to sate the bloodlust of those merely looking for that sort of thing, too.
Crawl might owe more to recent shark movies like 47 Meters Down or Deep Blue Sea than it does to Jaws or actual giant alligator movies. Having seen a couple spectacularly bad alligator movies over the years, Crawl does seem to be better than the breed generally warrants. Part of that might come from the fact that it’s as much a disaster survival movie with the gators just adding another level of fear. In that respect, Crawl reminded me of 2016’s Don’t Breathe, also produced by Raimi, in that it works despite mostly taking place in a single location with just two actors.
Written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, the script isn’t that spectacular, but it doesn’t really need to be either. Having two solid actors bringing the characters to life goes far in adding to the illusion of these CG gators being a constant menace. It isn’t a light movie with any amount of humor – okay, having Kaley drive past a nearby “Alligator Farm” on her way to find her father is an amusing bit of foreshadowing — but humor also wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate either. Much of the drama outside of the danger comes from this tight bond between father and daughter and how they need to endure the elements to get past their family issues.
Aja’s team, particularly the production and art design crew, does a great job creating the location, whether it’s the flooded basement or the surrounding storm-washed area. The visual FX aren’t as transparent as we’ve seen in other movies, but even the parts that look like they were obviously filmed on a set gives the movie a throwback style that can still be appreciated. And yet, there’s a realism to the movie that makes one think that this could easily be based on something that really happened.
While Crawl is thankfully short at 90 minutes, it certainly has room to be longer without necessarily needing to be. Basically, it’s the type of movie that tends to be appreciated in the summer when you’re looking for some excuse to get out of the heat and humidity, and no one should feel even remotely guilty about enjoying it for that reason alone.