Starring Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson
Written by Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Directed by Alexandre Aja
2018’s The Meg (which I detested) ended a hot streak of summertime shark-themed horror movies that began in 2016 with The Shallows and continued with 2017’s 47 Meters Down. And even though we have 47 Meters Down: Uncaged to look forward to in August, Crawl scratches that same itch in 2019—and it feels so nice! It’s all about staying out (or getting out) of the water, but instead of floating on top of it, it’s rising all around us—and fast! No, there are no sharks to worry about in Crawl; this time, the beasts are alligators—and there are a lot of them!
Crawl (produced by Evil Dead mastermind Sam Raimi) is a true genre mash-up, and I’m not just talking about the obvious blending of disaster movie and creature tropes. It won’t take long before you realize that Crawl is essentially a home invasion horror movie as well. And even though it’s never stated explicitly, there’s an eco-terror element that carries significant weight. There’s aren’t any environmentalist undertones, but the mere fact that this film exists in an era of increased hurricanes, floods, and wildlife displacement is a message in and of itself. Still, at the end of the day, you’ll be having too much fun to count subgenres or fish the subtext for deeper messages.
Fun? Yes, because there’s a ton of black humor throughout Crawl. You’ll be sweating bullets one minute and laughing you ass off the next. But rest assured horror fans, you’ll be on the edge of your seat for the majority of the film. Crawl hits hard fast and never truly lets up. Believe me, it’ll be a welcome relief when the action slows for character development. Not only will it offer reprise from the reptilian onslaught, but the folks we meet are also finely scripted and deftly acted. There’s just enough drama to draw us in, but not so much it weighs us down or distracts us from what we really want: Carnage!
Alexandre Aja was the perfect choice for directing Crawl. Even if you weren’t immediately enamored by his paragon of New French Extremity, High Tension, most horror fans were pleasantly shocked and horrified by his remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. It was 2010’s Piranha 3D that married the filmmaker’s propensity for pushing boundaries with his ability to entertain the fuck out of an audience. And now, in Crawl, Aja unleashes just about every weapon in his creative arsenal to keep us rapt, amused, and squirming in our seats. Tonally, there’s absolutely a similarity to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Every time it looks like our “final girl” is about to catch a break, she’s thrust right back into the maelstrom.
I can’t tell how many of the gators were real, animatronic, or CGI—which is a good thing. While some scenes are irreverently over-the-top, nothing feels overtly fake. And while I’m no zoologist, the ancient apex predators seem to behave, for the most part, realistically: They’re attracted to sound and motion as opposed to sight and smell; they lumber when they walk and perform the infamous “death roll” on their prey. In the 21st Century, 1975’s Jaws was criticized for demonizing great white sharks, which are (for the most part) harmless to humans and extremely elusive. Whether or not Crawl is accused of demonizing the majestic alligators of Florida remains to be seen, but (again) nothing feels artificial. The water rises, and the gators simply go with the flow—and they’re hungry!
People often differentiate between “elevated horror” and mindless “bubble gum horror” but Crawl proves a film can be both. You can’t please all the people all the time, but this is as close to a universal horror crowd-pleaser as you’re likely to come across in this day and age. You don’t have to turn off your brain in order to find yourself transported into pure escapism but you don’t need your thinking cap strapped in order to absorb the film’s diverse elements either. There really is something for everyone: Enough gore to please the hardcore genre enthusiasts, enough humor and action for the scaredy cats, and more than enough eye-candy for those thrilled by special effects. If you love horror, if you like horror, or simply enjoy the thrill of cinema, then you really have no excuse for missing out on Crawl.
Crawl hits some US markets tonight in advance of a nationwide release tomorrow, July 12th.
Crawl is another Grade A offering from 21st Century Master of Horror Alexandre Aja, who benefits immensely from Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen’s rousing screenplay and Sam Raimi’s legendary golden touch. It’s the best “stay out of the water” summertime horror movie since 2016’s The Shallows (which was the best shark-themed horror movie since Jaws). Give sharks a break and get down with the gators in Crawl!