With ‘Crawl’ Aja does for basements and alligators, what Niel Marshall did for the sub-terrain and cave creatures.
An almost perfect blend of creature feature with a slasher sentiment, ‘Crawl’ is well worth your time if you’re a fan of either genres.
The plot is deceptively simple. A young lady goes looking for her estranged father at their old family home, just as a hurricane is due to make landfall. Concerned for his wellbeing, she initially struggles to locate him. As the storm builds around her she frantically searches for him, ultimately finding him injured and out cold in the basement of his swamp-side property. A somewhat distressing find no matter the context, however her plight worsens as she discovers that his assailant – a giant alligator is lurking nearby and the basement begins to flood on account of the storm surge. She must use every resource and wit available to her as time and circumstance is most definitely not on her side.
Although a fan of Aja’s other works, given the premise, I was somewhat sceptical just how effective this movie would be as I couldn’t really see it playing to his strength’s, (or indeed my own genre preferences), however, it became quickly apparent that clever writing and a focus on tension rather than just the creature attacks, ‘Crawl’ was playing very much in the ball-park, cultivating peril and atmosphere as organically as any effective slasher movie would do; with the gory and vicious gator attacks just providing the punch when needed to accent the exceptionally tense experience.
As with Marshal’s aforementioned ‘The Decent’ much of the strength of ‘Crawl’ comes as much from its core characters, as it does its naturally adverse locale.
In this, whilst the cast is small they provide all the emotional complexity required to give antagonists to route for. The backstory and context are revealed in snippets as the story progresses, revealing an interesting dynamic between the father’s overbearing parenting and her own desires to compete as a competitive swimmer. Of course her being a swimmer helps her survive against natures champion paddlers, but more than that, avoiding typical cliches and finding ‘inner strength’ pastiche gives you a genuine reason to route.
As happens once every so often, I found myself actually wanting these characters to make it; very much so.
But there’s a lot going against them. As required by all good slashers, there’s a lot out of their control. The natural claustrophobic confines of the basement/crawlspace take away any bipedal advantage them might have. The storm and subsequent evacuation of the area ensures that there’s no calling for help, and the rising flood waters mean even time is not on their side. Throughout the movie there is not a lot on their side, and this right here is what I love typically about Aja’s work; its always cold and brutal. ‘Crawl’ is no exception, it’s a nasty movie, creature feature or otherwise.
The violence is frequent and brutal, considering the small cast, there’s a decent array of creative kills regardless of the restrictions – after all gators do what gators do. Just to add to the body count there are a few extras thrown in for good measure as the pace demands, all of whom meet a swift yet grisly end. The CGI on the gators is a bit suspect at times but overall the effects are good, but, graciously, there seems no expense spared on the gore effects. As you’d expect there is a lot of blood spraying around, and copious amounts of crimson shaded water but also we get to see some compound fractures and even limbs torn off at times. Chunks of flesh rend from those who escape the death-roll and all in all, if you every needed a reminder of the frailty of man in the jaws of nature, this will do it!
‘Mega-Gator vs.’ this is not. It’s a very organic and to an extent conceivable feeling flick; although I’ll accept some liberties are taken in just how much injury one might be able to endure given the context; but I’ll let it slide.
Overall ‘Crawl’ came highly recommended to me, and in turn, I’ve no hesitation in recommending it to you. It’s not a complex horror that will leave you pondering it for days, but it does provide a tight 90 minutes of visceral creature feature entertainment which will most definitely hit its mark. Brutal enough to satisfy hardened horror fans, and equally genre identifiable enough to enjoy with some non-horror obsessed mates.