“Crawl lives and dies by the base level of its spectacle, and its best and worst moments reflect that. When it buys us into the ridiculous heights of its conceit, we play along; when its developments feel obligatory, it all starts to crumble.”
by Ken Bakely
Well, at least sharks finally got a break. The large, aggressive creatures stalking the heroes of Alexandre Aja’s Crawl are some very hungry alligators. They have trapped Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her father Dave (Barry Pepper), in Dave’s Florida home as a Category 5 hurricane batters the southwestern portion of the state. The water rises and, as a result, so do the gators. They make quick work of anyone who attempt to rescue Haley and Dave, who soon must fend for themselves in battling both the storm and what the floods have swept in. The film is just about as simple as that on a conceptual level – a pattern of increasing peril, nameless supporting characters being picked off, and the increasingly ludicrous surviving of increasingly ludicrous scenarios. Aja is a veteran of this kind of ridiculous creature feature, and he approaches this film with the smooth operating mechanism that makes things a little too deadpan and a little too obligatory. But at the same time, he sells the most solid thrills of the material, and Scodelario and Pepper are a capable leading pair. The film moves at a lightning fast clip; while it might fall a little too much on the low end of the sliding scale of self-awareness, at least it knows just enough to keep things going as speedily as it can.
In other words, there’s a certain level of admiration to be had for a movie that operates with the continuous hum of capable mayhem that this one does. The film operates with a fair consistency, which works both for and against it, but for a straightforward genre exercise like this, it at least ensures that there are no genuine missteps. Occasionally middling CGI effects and cinematography notwithstanding, a technical sharpness to the production also works in its favor. But these are really just components of a larger point: Crawl lives and dies by the base level of its spectacle, and its best and worst moments reflect that. When it buys us into the ridiculous heights of its conceit, we play along; when its developments feel obligatory, it all starts to crumble. Of course, Haley is introduced as a swimmer in the first scene. Of course, there is longstanding tension between Dave and the rest of the family that acts as a splash of emotional variance. Of course, there will be numerous scenes which imperil the characters, but bring them back from the brink before something truly tragic happens. The issue here is not that these things happen, but that the movie is caught between its dutiful devotion to them, and a surprising dourness to its tone that renders it incapable of doing anything with these clichés besides rattling them off.
With both its straightforward format and the rising floodwaters to match, Crawl effectively feels like a film adaptation of a scrolling video game. And on that note, there’s the same essential foundation of entertainment that a simple game might have: Aja keeps things firmly focused on the idea of characters navigating and surviving, right before a bigger challenge comes their way. Our two capable actors both brave the intensely physical nature of their roles and lend their characters as much personal resonance as the intentionally thin script might permit, making the movie’s silliness at least the kind that you can engage with on the level of the onscreen talent. There could have been more, though. There’s really no ceiling on what you can do with alligators trapping people in their house in the midst of a hurricane. The amount of chaos such a concept all but guarantees in our mind is essentially unlimited. And while the film deserves points for its fast clip and capable, down-the-board professionalism, we keep waiting for something more dedicated, more maniacal, and ultimately, just more ridiculous and entertaining.