Movies about alligators (or is it crocodiles?) attacking gorgeous teens aren’t quite as plentiful as movies about sharks attacking gorgeous teens, but there are still plenty of them crawling around out there. Sharks, on the surface, seem more deadly; they are after all out in the wide open spaces of the ocean, while gators are stuck mostly in marshy, humid areas where no one would want to camp or spend their holiday. But alligators can be just as deadly as sharks when they want to be, and Crawl proves that when a family of alligators attack a father and daughter during a major hurricane, begging the question, how many times can someone be bit by an alligator and survive?
Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is a very serious swimmer at a Florida college, made perfectly clear in the opening sequence by the way director Alexandre Aja frames every morsel of intensity pinched across her determined eyes and taut, focused body language as she prepares to tackle the last leg of what will turn out to be just practice. This initial sequence also introduces us to Haley’s father, Dave (Barry Pepper), who used to be her swim coach, but is now estranged for reasons we never find out about.
When a major hurricane is reported, Haley’s sister (Morfydd Clark), a character that doesn’t have any relevance to the story aside from trying to talk Haley out of going deeper into the hurricane, is extremely worried about Dave. Even though Haley and her father are far from Facebook friends, she risks her safety to track him down, going first to his rundown condo, and then to their old house, which Dave put up for sale after the death of his wife.
Haley finds Dave unconscious and wounded deep in the crawl space under the house. As she pulls him towards the stairs (still not sure how she was going to get him up the stairs), an alligator comes out of nowhere, driving them back into the belly of the basement. Now, to escape the alligators’s feverish hunger, the two must overcome their differences and flood waters that only rise when it’s convenient for the plot.
It’s safe to assume by now that Crawl is not a very good movie. Aside from those pesky, perfectly-timed flood waters, we have two protagonists that make one bone-headed decision after another. If either one of them had even a modicum of a brain, ninety percent of what happens in the movie would never have happened.
First up is the retrieval of Haley’s phone. I have no problem with Haley going after the phone; what I have a problem with is when she does get the phone, she doesn’t immediately get back to where it’s safe before calling the police. Instead, she takes her cue from an awful SyFy original and sits in harm’s way to dial 911, at which point the next attack begins.
When your ultimate goal is to get out of the flooding basement, it would seem to me you’d take any opportunity to do that. Not Haley. When a police officer checking in on Haley becomes gator chow (don’t worry; it’s not a spoiler; if you know anything about these types of film, you would have seen that coming a hundred miles away), instead of using that distraction to swim ten feet to get out of the basement, she swims back to her father to setup the next round of unavoidable, near-death attacks.
These and many other inane decisions lead to one faux pas that can’t be rescued. It involves one major decision that extends the film beyond its welcome by pushing the characters into a situation that they never should have been in, only to send them back to where they should have gone in the first place, simply to put our protagonists in peril (and prove Aja can change the rules whenever he wants) for no other reason than to extend the run time, which at its current state is only 90 minutes, and add a few more frivolous attempts at scares.
I’ve forgiven far worse in other films. The thing is, those films (like any Saturday night SyFy original, or even blockbusters like The Meg) know that they are mindless schlock with no real purpose but to see characters get chewed up by apex predators. What Crawl forgets to do in order to avoid focusing on all of the character’s poor decisions is to create characters that are worth watching.
First of all, none of the attempts at character development or relationships between characters work. Aja tries to setup Haley as being a great swimmer that doesn’t have the confidence to push herself to the limit, but the follow through on this specific trait doesn’t come naturally. Then there’s the aforementioned police officer; Aja spends several minutes setting up a backstory between him and her sister, but that idea is as irrelevant as a gang of looters stealing an ATM.
Finally, when it comes to our two leads, neither Scodelario nor Pepper display any form of personality. Pepper seems to have given up, forgoing the chance to inject Dave with a modicum of life in order to get through the day and cash his paycheck. It doesn’t help that his partner (who have teamed up once before in the Maze Runner films) is as dry as drywall.
Monotonous to a fault, Scodelario has one emotional state—boredom. Even as she screams and swims and runs and acts like she’s some sort of badass (another detail that’s played as some sort of saving grace and ends up being wholly irrelevant to the plot), Scodelario’s emotions are closed for duty, keeping anyone from feeling any empathy for her or her situation.
And that’s what Crawl ultimately boils down to; it’s a series of events that had you heard about them on the news, you’d probably think, Wow, that’s terrible, and then go on with your life because it doesn’t directly effect you. For a film like this to work, there has to be a strong, unique personality embedded within, either through the characters, the script, or in the style of filmmaking. Crawl has none of that; it’s just a bland film in a sea of films that will be forgotten next week.
My Grade: D+
Kumail Nanjiani injects Stuber, the latest buddy-cop comedy that finds Nanjiani’s down-on-his-luck Uber driver paired with the massive, revenge-hungry Dave Bautista, with a reflective innocence that pairs well with all of the subplots (some that work better than others) peppered throughout the well-balanced moments of action and comedy. B+
Next week, new movies include The Lion King. If you would like to see a review of this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.