Directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension) and produced by Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), the new creature feature Crawl is designed specifically to terrify those who live in Florida and other Gulf-bordering states, and it works. Set during a Category 5 hurricane, the film follows a young woman who must save herself and her father from a flooding house swarming with alligators.
With a few low-budget flicks (and one not-so-successful John Carpenter thriller) under their belt, Crawl is the most ambitious script yet from writing duo Michael and Shawn Rasmussen. Although the core story of the movie is admittedly straightforward, it is a surprisingly taut thriller that draws you in quickly and keeps you in its jaws until the very end.
In an admirable move, the Rasmussens waste very little time setting up the premise of the film. After a brief introduction to the characters, we are tossed into the storm (quite literally) and are forced to go along for the ride. Because of the breakneck pacing, you don’t have time to slow down and think about the logistics or geography of what is going on and whether or not it makes sense — you just want to see what is going to happen next.
Additionally, one of the reasons why this works so much better than other similar horror movies is that the characters are thoroughly likable. Unlike most horror protagonists, the main characters in this film aren’t stupid characters making stupid decisions for selfish reasons. Instead, the characters take their time to think out their decisions and actually learn from their mistakes.
However, perhaps the most impressive thing about this movie compared to most other horror flicks is that the characters have a legitimate emotional arc. Sure, the characters are trying to survive their battle with these gigantic and ferocious beasts, but below the surface swim some interesting subplots, like the protagonist’s desire for perfection and her father’s struggle with depression. It is truly surprising that the filmmakers were able to effectively incorporate these themes into something that is just under an hour and a half long, but they did it.
The actors do a great job in their roles too. Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper, who worked together previously in the Maze Runner series, have great father-daughter chemistry together and sell this emotional arc. Scodelario proves her chops as an action star in this film, fighting the CGI alligators in a way that is endlessly fun to watch. Hopefully she can break out, as she is obviously very talented. Pepper, an established character actor, shines in a role that is more prominent than most of his past turns.
Yet even though Crawl has many more layers of depth and complexity than most creature features, it manages to satisfy completely as a horror movie as well. You will be on the edge of your seat for the entire film, as Aja is able to build suspense in unique ways with the camera and editing, using the sharp and deliberate dialogue to his advantage to give the movie a natural rhythm. And while there are a few jump scares, every single one of them is earned. None of them feels cheap and all of them are surprising and startling.
You will also be surprised by how good this film looks on such a tight budget. Purportedly shot on a mid-eight-figure budget, the visuals are significantly better than those of other movies which had much more money at their disposal. The CGI, for example, is shockingly good. Common sense tells you that the alligators aren’t real, but movie magic can convince you otherwise while you are in the heat of the moment. Additionally, Aja takes advantage of the confined setting to create a ton of tension.
In all honesty, Crawl is significantly better than anyone expected it would be, including the studio who didn’t even screen it in the market in which the film is set. This is the horror movie of the summer, so you should run (or swim) to see it in your local multiplex as soon as possible.
Crawl is now playing in theaters.