‘Crawl’ filled with teeth-clenching tension
Two summers ago, on the exact same release weekend, “47 Meters Down” went on to defy expectations as a larger-budgeted Syfy channel original, grossing over 12 times its modest budget of $5 million.
At a lean 89 minutes, it was a simple survival tale, not so much of menacing sharks (though they played a role), but more of two tourists in an environment that is quite alien to them and against mounting odds.
“Crawl” takes this same straightforward narrative and replaces the Mexican vacation setting with the southernmost tip of Florida. Instead of dwindling air tanks and faulty shark cages, we are placed in the crawlspace of a flood-level home, with hungry gators nearby and an impending Category 5 hurricane off the coast.
It’s equally sinewy at 90 minutes, and it knows exactly what it’s supposed to do, but “Crawl” also manages to sneak in a family drama between bites, and does so with dexterity and efficiency.
Kaya Scodelario stars as Haley, a competitive college swimmer whose strained relationship with her father (played by Barry Pepper) may or may not be the root of her lagging swimming abilities. Once her biggest supporter and coach, her dad is struggling after his marriage disintegrated when Haley and her sister left for school.
When news of the storm reports the eye traveling over their childhood home, Haley reaches out to her dad and, unable to reach him, decides to head back to the house in search of him.
Haley finds him unconscious under the house, where a local alligator decided to take up residence, and the film becomes a race against rising tides and razor teeth as the two struggle to leave before the local levees break and submerge the three-story structure.
This is not the first gator-centric spin on the “Jaws” formula. Since the 1970s, there have been a surprisingly solid number of reptile-based thrillers, including 1980’s John Sayles-penned “Alligator” and three killer croc/gator films released in 2007, “Rogue,” “Primeval” and “Black Water.” And I’m not even going into all the genetically mutated beasties that populate cheapo made-for-cable channels (sit down, “Dinocroc” and “Supergator”).
Directed by Alexandre Aja, who expertly handled the “Piranha” remake in 2010, “Crawl” does not offer the same goofy tone as his previous film, but still keeps things light and lean. Scodelario plays Haley as determination personified, while Pepper is mainly there for moral support for his daughter. Working equally as an ode to Mother Nature, “Crawl” is filled with teeth-clenching tension, morbid humor and grisly thrills. By placing the action in the cramped quarters of an old swamp-based home, “Crawl” is equal parts haunted house, natural disaster and slasher, all (alligator) rolled into one, with not a minute wasted.