Crawl is a silly and schlocky summer trash. There’s no getting around that. It’s trailer literally teases ‘screaming hot girl vs giant alligators’, a premise so ridiculous it’s guaranteed to send people to the hospital due to facepalming more times than one’s body can take.
There’s a hurricane on the horizon. Haley’s dad isn’t picking up her calls, nor her sister’s. It’s unlike him, so Haley drives to the now evacuated small town where her dad lives, to look for him. She finds him in the dirty basement under the garage, unconscious, leg almost snapped in half. She puts him on a large bag and drags it through the mud towards the stairs when suddenly…. A GIANT CGI ALLIGATOR ATTACKS! Apparently, because of the floods, a bunch of alligators have escaped the sanctuary and are now attacking people.
Not exactly an extraordinary work of literature, is it?
But I write this to try and convince you that this low budget summer schlock is actually worth watching. That despite the ridiculousness of its general premise, it’s also pretty damn thrilling. That you will be at the edge of your seat from start to finish. That if you do get sent to the hospital, it would be because of a damn heart attack. Here, director Alexandre Aja shows a good eye for crafting meaningful individual moments and building genuine tension. The basic treatment may read girl vs alligators, but there’s more to it.
Crawl opens in a varsity swimming pool. The camera glides slowly and most the sound is drained out. We see our lead character Haley getting ready for a race. She’s gathering her thoughts, focused and ready. Haley is a phenomenal swimmer, one who cuts through the water as swiftly as sailfish. She loses, though, by less than a kitten’s whisker. You would think there would be a look of disappointment plastered on her face. But she’s more hollow than sad. She lost because of the baggage that pulling at her ankles, dragging her down as she swims. As the movie progresses, we slowly learn more about her character, her rocky relationship with her father and her baggage.
This forms the emotional throughline of Crawl. Surviving alligators doubles as a breaking of mental barriers! This is why we want her to succeed. This is why we root for her. The writing by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen is good, but it’s Aja’s direction that really shines through. He understands the importance of lingering on a character, even during moments where the struggles aren’t external, but internal.
You also root for the character because Kaya Scodelario is fantastic as Haley. First of all, she has the physicality to pull off a largely physical role. There’s a lot of struggling and jumping and swimming and climbing and not for a second do you doubt Haley’s display of strength, grit and athleticism. But Scodelario is also charismatic and emotes in a manner that reaches out to you. You root for her so much that even a line that should’ve been cheesier than a stuffed crust pizza — “Apex predator all day baby!” — becomes a rousing moment that incites a “hell yeah!” from the audience. As Alicia Keys would put it, this girl is on fire!
Crawl is at its best when it’s in the basement that’s slowly filling up because of the flood. I wished we stayed here longer. But this wouldn’t be a schlocky summer movie if we have our storyteller showing too much restraint and keeping things grounded. So we go from a flooded basement surrounded by one… no two… no three alligators to a drainage system filled with alligator eggs, into a flooded house, on to a kitchen cabinet, a shower room, the street, a boat and then the roof. Each set piece more ludicrous than what comes before.
But does it really matter when you’re not laughing? (OK fine, there are a couple of moments that had me chuckling to myself.) When you almost jump out of your seat in fear? When you let out a small sigh of relief every time the protagonist survives a near-fatal attack? When the director, despite working a throwaway summer movie, doesn’t use jumpscares for cheap thrills but crafts moments of authentic tension and suspense.
No, it does not matter. Crawl isn’t protein-heavy steak, but a sweet candy bar. Even still, there’s a difference between biting into a Ferrero Rocher and a Choki-Choki. This is everything you hoped to get from The Meg but didn’t. It’s a quick 90-minute movie that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t overstay its welcome. What you get is a thoroughly enjoyable, nail-biting affair from start to finish.