Providing popcorn munching entertainment, admirable performances, and a simple yet familiar tone, Crawl is a creature-feature set in the sloshy flooded suburbs of Florida during a Category 5 Hurricane. Much like the 2016 film The Shallows, starring Blake Lively; Crawl balances on a small refuge among a vast ocean of failed monster flicks, managing to survive the usual onslaught that many of the monster movies succumb to. This is a surprisingly well-constructed flick smack-bang in the middle of a blockbuster season full of disappointments. The film follows Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a competitive swimmer who visits her dad (Barry Pepper) at the wrong time and finds herself surrounded by deadly Alligators.
While Crawl may not match the gritty precision of superior true-story survival films like 127 Hours (2010) or The Impossible (2012) – it’s important to understand that it’s not intending to – this is first and foremost a film that is aware of its campy premise, but it doing its best to ground itself in some level of reality so that it can adequately inject tension without feeling goofy. Crawl provides the correct chemical balance of camp, scares, and realism to concoct a slurry mixture that works on its own terms. Of course, there are moments that unnecessarily stretch reality; Crawl is about 80% realistic and I felt it could have greatly benefited from delving just that little bit deeper into the waters of realism, perhaps 90%. What could possibly make being surrounded by Alligators during a hurricane even scarier? The answer: Making it almost entirely believable. Nothing is more chilling than knowing that the nightmare on-screen could potentially happen. Apart from that, Crawl makes for the perfect rainy Sunday movie, not too scary, not too dreary, and just the right amount of fun.
Crawl also benefits from its short run-time by densely packing together its conservative scares and emotional moments in rapid succession. This thriller is as much about surviving the torrents of a raging hurricane as it is about averting the threat of 1000lb alligators patrolling the underbelly of their degrading Florida home. Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper work through gritty, wet, and sludgy conditions on set to provide a strong father-daughter duo, with Kaya providing a well-rounded portrayal of a girl going through absolute hell.
As far as low budget thrillers go Crawl does storms very well, creating a set and atmosphere up there with some of the best storm themed films. But the moment it attempts to up the ante with either the Hurricane or the Alligators is the moment the waters of realism become very murky. This is a visually fantastic film until they try to stretch their budget on CG intensive sequences. However, there’s plenty to enjoy from almost every other facet, as the musical score is gripping, helping to support the unrelenting hurricane blasting in the background.
Director Alexandre Aja does a lot right here, almost dipping into the boundaries of the survival genre but instead keeping a foot in the waters of campy fun. Crawl floats on the surface between survival film and monster flick – finding a compromise that can satisfy audiences at most corners of the river. Hurricanes, Alligators, and a father and daughter trapped at every end – what’s not to like?