Crawl, unlike Jaws, is actually just a movie about people vs. a natural predator. It is simple. It is effective. It is the most fun I’ve had in a theater since John Wick 3. Directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension, Horns) and written by Shawn and Michael Rasmussen, Crawl is a horror-thriller set in the heart of Florida. In it, Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) returns home from college during a category 5 hurricane, searching for her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), whom she’s unable to get a hold of. Luckily for Haley, she is an aspiring collegiate swimmer so she probably won’t drown while she trudges through flooded street after flooded street. Not so luckily, she finds her dad stuck in a crawl space where the water is slowly rising. There is also their cute family dog, Sugar. And, as advertised, there are alligators—toothy and ravenous.
Crawl’s heart thrums with the unique beat that is Florida itself. In the age of “Florida Man” stories that go viral on a near-daily basis, Florida is a seemingly mythic place. There, a man can rob a bank wielding two raccoons, so it just makes sense that a father and daughter could be beset by alligators in a house during a category 5 hurricane. It is just another day in our collective projection of what that humid little state can offer.
Still, Crawl embraces the absurd with intense seriousness. There is very little levity to be found in the film, and emotions, blood and viscera flow forth when Crawl really kicks into gear. Both Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario sell the intensity of their situation and the fractured, emotional state of their relationship. Yes, as the plot demands it, they grow closer and have moments of revelation, but they also bicker and argue, the trauma of their past as alive and dangerous in the house as the alligators that lurk just below the water’s surface. Small details—faded, etched-in height measurements on the wall; a swing outside—help us care for these characters as things just get worse and worse. There was once joy to be found in this home. But now …there are alligators and a category 5 hurricane.
Aja’s direction and spatial awareness craft each scenario as a white-knuckled set piece, both in and out of context. He understands that heightened situations are rarely as complex as we think them to be, and most situations in Crawl play out, initially at least, as the need to get from A to B, but beware of G(ators). He and trusted cinematographer Maxime Alexandre move their camera with such precision and assurance that viewers are aware of the environment in which Crawl’s setpieces play out. As the water level grows, these scenarios become more confined, more original in their blocking and execution than previous setpieces. The alligators, too, become even more dangerous, as their hunting grounds have expanded. A certain setpiece with a character, a gun and an unfortunate situation will be seared into my brain for years to come.
Boy are these alligators blood-thirsty! Realistic? Probably not, but they make for quite the compelling villains, these millennia-old creatures that thrash and fill their maws with any and all things that look like food. They rip flesh from bone, tear through muscle and roll their prey until the water runs red with blood. This movie, though a thriller where humans get thrashed and shredded, is a love letter to alligators and the unwavering, beautiful danger of nature. Realized through brilliant and at times surprisingly realistic CGI, Crawl’s alligators are the scariest water-dwelling creatures to grace the big screen since Jaws. They move with such quick, believable ferocity that one might find themselves watching the film through the slits of their fingers as the final act ratchets the tension and danger up tenfold. What these alligators can do, and do, to the human figure is not shied away from. While never dwelling on gore for shock value’s sake, this is a particularly nasty and meaty slice of horror. One must only imagine what those jaws could do to the human body—Crawl brings those imaginings into stark and bloody relief.
Crawl is the type of summer fare we don’t really get anymore. In the sweaty, latter months of the season, in an age in which such horror is relegated to Syfy drivel, Crawl is a brilliant ode to the magical realism of Florida and how, when made with craft and care, few movie-going experiences are as good as creature-features in the hottest month of the year. As moviegoers are blasted with frigid air conditioning, thoughts of beachfront dreams cooled, a movie about hurricanes and alligators and how uncaring nature is seems like a less scary reality than what awaits, sweltering, outside the theater.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper
Release Date: July 12, 2019
Cole Henry is a Paste intern who bought Criterion’s War and Peace knowing he’ll never have the time to watch it.