Crawl: A Category 5 Popcorn Horror Thriller

Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Drag Me To Hell), Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D), Category 5 hurricanes, and killer alligators. What more could you ask of a summer horror movie? Killer animal movies generally play well over the summer months, and Crawl looks to be no exception. Critics have already embraced Aja’s killer alligator movie. Based on its promotional material, Crawl already looks like an improvement over past summer animal horror like 47 Meters Down and The Meg. So does Crawl have enough bite to warrant the critical praise?

Synopsis

College swimmer Hailey drives towards a Category 5 hurricane in south Florida to find her father. Though they’re estranged, Hailey worries that her stubborn dad wont evacuate his home. When she arrives at the family house, she finds her dad, Dave, unconscious and bleeding in the cellar crawl space. Soon Hailey realizes they’re not alone. Rising flood waters have deposited alligators in the house basement. As the water levels quickly rise, Hailey and Dave must find a way past the ravenous reptiles to escape.

Crawl Delivers Non-Stop Scares and Suspense

Director Alexandre Aja is no stranger to tense horror movies. Though Aja tones down his trademark graphic violence, Crawl delivers almost continuous suspense and tension. After some very brief character introduction and table-setting, Crawl dives headlong into its simple, but brilliant, premise. Once Aja gets Hailey into that crawl space, the movie rarely slows down. For the bulk of its runtime, Crawl is a roller-coaster thrill ride, allowing only brief moments to catch your breath.

The combination of tight spaces and occasional alligator point-of-view shots heighten the tension.

In spite of its limited setting, Aja and screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen find plenty of creative ways to put father and daughter in danger. Risky efforts to retrieve cellphones or find an exit have you looking all over the screen for an alligator lurking in the shadows. The combination of tight spaces and occasional alligator point-of-view shots heighten the tension. As the water levels rise, both a kitchen and shower stall scene make for inventive, thrills. And the intermittently staged jump scares all hit their mark. Not surprisingly, given his past movies Aja includes a few cringeworthy moments. But the gore is sparse and shouldn’t deter average filmgoers from enjoying Crawl.

CGI Alligators Make for Convincing Monsters

Let’s face it. A ‘creature feature’ is only as good as its monsters. Fortunately, even with its CGI, Crawl’s alligators make for convincing monsters. Aja wisely keeps his alligators hidden for much of the movie. Shadows under water and scaled tails flicking through ripples remind you that the reptiles are an omnipresent threat. But when Aja puts his alligators centre-stage, the reptiles look impressively menacing. There are only a few occasions when the CGI either looks obvious or distracts.

Crawl’s Family Drama Never Distracts From The Main Attraction

Screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen understand that sympathetic characters are more likely to elicit suspense. It’s hard to feel tense or scared if you don’t care about what’s happening to the characters onscreen. In this regard, Crawl takes notes from other horror popcorn thrillers like Happy Death Day. That is, Crawl’s father and daughter are some slightly contrived family drama. There’s stuff about parents divorcing, selling a family home, and a fractured father-daughter relationship. Yes, it’s a little superficial. But it does enough to get you to invest in the characters without distracting from why you’re really watching the movie.

…Kayla Scodelario and Barry Pepper make the material work.

In addition, Kayla Scodelario and Barry Pepper make the material work. As Hailey, Scodelario gives a performance reminiscent of Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day. She demonstrates a range of emotions, making for a convincing and compelling heroine. Veteran actor Barry Pepper gives an intense, grizzled performance. Regardless of how improbable the movie gets, Pepper keeps things grounded and makes you believe it’s happening. It’s all more than enough to keep you invested in between the gator action.

Crawl Is Pure Popcorn Horror Fun

Despite underperforming somewhat at the box office, Crawl should be on every horror fan’s ‘must see’ list. Aja has crafted a thrilling roller-coaster ride of jumps and suspense. Crawl wastes little time picking up its pace. Once the gators crawl onto the screen, you’re likely to be gripping your theatre seat for the remainder of the movie. Crawl is destined to be a classic.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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