Director Alexandre Aja’s (High Tension) new horror movie Crawl is not the sweeping epic filmatic game-changing masterpiece that will recue moviegoers from the never-ending siege which is super hero and computer animated movies (that heavy lifting might just fall on one Mr. Quentin Tarantino later this month). It’s not Citizen Kane or Out of Africa. Heck, it’s not even Alligator or Lake Placid. Then what the hell is Crawl if it’s none of the above? Glad you asked; Crawl is one of the more fun popcorn movies that have come along in some time. It’s an invitation to come in from the hot-not quite yet dog days of summer and enjoy a movie that has a big and cheesy heart beating wildly and proudly and is nothing more and nothing less than one hour and twenty seven minutes worth of sheer and wonderful escapism.
The rundown (and setup): A huge hurricane devastates a Florida community and amidst the panic and confusion a young woman named Haley shirks off any thought of evacuating so that she can go searching for her missing in action father. Her quest ultimately leads to the father and daughter reunion as imagined by the Marquis de Sade and Jack the Ripper. For you see, this reunion is not brought to you by the Hallmark Channel with flowers and sunshine, but rather is presented in the form of out of control flood waters and a very big pack of alligators. To make matters worse (Can that really be possible?) the two are hemmed in and trapped in their family home, lending a Hitchcockian atmosphere to the proceedings. And never fear fellow Vertigo and Rear Window aficionados, this will be the only time during this review that I will attempt to compare Crawl – no matter how much fun I had watching it – to Alfred Hitchcock.
One of the elements that really pay’s off and works like gangbusters is the acting in Crawl. Kaya Scodelario has always been a terrifically underrated actor in such films as Skins and in The Maze Runner. Here, she brings her usual A-game to a genre that doesn’t always get the best in actors and makes us believe the unbelievable. Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile) is her father (and boy, does typing those words make me feel long in the tooth!) and proves an excellent dancing partner for Scodelario. This is ultimately a two person show and it is a testament to the high level both actors typically work from that they manage to sell to the audience the impending danger of the on the hunt alligators.
And what of the alligators themselves? They are appropriately frightening and Aja does well by playing with the audience’s expectations of seeing the alligators in all of their frightening rage. Like a maestro, he teases us with little glimpses and reaction shots to the environment that these teeming hordes affect, slightly holding back on the full reveal until a little later in the story. Yes, there is CGI and it’s at times a little too much and it leaves you wanting a less is more sort of approach. But there is attempted restraint by the director; he is clearly more interested in the story of a father and daughter attempting to surmount insanely impossible odds and the real star is not the alligators but the love between Pepper and Scodelario.
What exactly makes Crawl work? Director and co-writer Alexandre Aja seems to be in on the joke of just how unlikely and inherently cheesy the whole situation is. Make no mistakes this is not Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, but it might very well be Jeannot Szwarc’s Jaws 2. An atmosphere seems to exist from the first frame to the last that the movie we are watching and perhaps throwing popcorn up at the screen as we good-naturedly laugh and scream is a fun parody of what this actual situation would in reality be like. Crawl seems to exist and get its celluloid strength from being an irreverent thriller that we’ll quickly forget about the following day as we mope gloomily around the latest MSN Doom and Gloom news cycle. But – and this is important – while watching it you will be transported away from this world and into another that exists only as an escape hatch into a fantastical world where the impossible becomes possible. And really, isn’t that the whole point of going to the movies whether it’s 1933 at the height of the Great Depression or 2019 and…well, whatever it is that is happening in our hectic world today?
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