Creature movies have had a rough time over the past few years. Offering nothing more than simple or bland stories that deliver nothing of substance. From Rampage to The Meg, natural predators have been treated as mere action fodder for pumped up muscle clad heroes. However with Crawl, director Alexandre Aja (Maniac) brings us a far more nuanced thriller, where disaster movie meets alligators in a world of dramatic climate change.
Written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, and produced by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Crawl manages to offer some genuine jumps and tension in its short 87 minute running time. Mixing the classic disaster film with the ability of one of the oldest predators in the world to adapt and survive in conditions humans find impossible. This is a film as much about human naivety and arrogance as it is about the hungry alligators at its heart.
As Hurricane Wendy bears down on the Florida keys, its power and destructive force growing hour by hour. Professional swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) receives worried phone calls from her sister. Their Dad (Barry Pepper) is failing to respond to calls, his work and personal numbers going straight to voice mail. Worried but also frustrated at her dads lack of contact, Hayley decides to drive down the coast to check on him, right into the heart of the incoming storm.
Finding her dad trapped in the crawl space under his house, with horrific bite marks, Hayley soon realises that they are not alone. Alligators from the local lake having found their way into the neighbourhood through the rising flood waters. Their natural instincts thriving in hurricane conditions where humans flounder.
As the flood water rises, and the alligators appetite increases. Hayley and her dad must confront both the hurricane and the predators who are king in the flooded neighbourhood surrounding them.
Crawl uses classic disaster movie structure and delivery to ramp up the tension from the first act. The importance of family support and aid in a time of crisis replacing the common sense of approaching danger. An estranged family unit brought closer together by the impending disaster surrounding them. Themes found in a number of classic disaster films from 2004s The Day After Tomorrow to the 1996 tornado disaster Twister.
Equally, Crawl plays with its claustrophobic atmosphere and rising flood waters in a similar way to the Poseidon Adventure and The Wave. Using the water, as well as the creatures within it to increase jeopardy and tension. The core horror coming from the the power of the planet and our insignificance in the face of nature. As much as it does the snappy predators gliding under the flood waters.
The alligators feel real, using their natural abilities and behaviours to adapt to the new world around them. The films central character and her swimming abilities, redundant in the face of the alligators skills in adaptation to a new landscape. While at times the alligators presence plays into classic B-Movie creature horror. Crawl never treats them as the villains. Purely focussing on their in-built abilities to thrive in conditions humans struggle to manage. It is within this narrative that Crawl is at its most interesting, exploring the human arrogance inherent in our view of our planet. Believing we are the dominant species, while failing to understand that our planet can quickly throw us off course, allowing other creatures to thrive.
Crawl isn’t perfect, adding family melodrama into the mix mid way through, only cuts the building tension while adding little to the overall film. Crawl also runs out of steam towards the final act, the tension of the previous acts replaced by the need wrap things up. Subverting some of its most interesting ideas with a classic disaster movie ending. Where humans overcome the power of nature.
However, in the main Crawl does manage to keep the tension going, and offer enough jumps and creature horror to keep the audience engaged. Mixing the classic disaster movie with B-Movie creature horror, in a way that takes aim at human superiority. Taking a bite out of our perceived dominance over our planet and it’s amazing species.
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper
Score by: Max Aruj & Steffen Thum
Cinematography: Maxime Alexandre
Production Company: Ghost House Pictures
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures