Movie Review: Tense ‘Crawl’ a claustrophobic alligator thriller

Movie Review: Tense ‘Crawl’ a claustrophobic alligator thriller

A young woman and her father find themselves trapped beneath their Florida family home during a category 5 hurricane - and surrounded by ravenous alligators - in Crawl, a nifty new thriller from director Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D).

As a hurricane warning sends residents fleeing their homes, competitive swimmer Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario), at a Florida university on a sports scholarship, decides to check in on her semi-estranged father (Barry Pepper) after getting a concerned call from her sister.

Handyman Dad doesn’t seem to be around, but he’s left dog Sugar and his cellphone behind, and Haley can hear the sounds of a radio emanating from underneath the old family home. She crawls beneath the house to find her father unconscious - - and a deadly alligator blocking their way out.

We’re only 15 minutes into the movie, but Crawl will spend the majority of the rest of its running time in the underground crawlspace as Haley and Dad maneuver themselves into areas the hulking gator can’t get to. With water levels quickly rising due to the storm, they need to find a way out before the area floods and they become gator food.

Strongly reminiscent of the indie thriller Burning Bright - in which a young woman and her autistic brother find themselves trapped in a boarded-up home with a hungry tiger during a hurricane - Crawl is nevertheless a tight and claustrophobic little thriller that succeeds thanks to a strong premise and solid use of the environment.

Mostly set in a compact single space, director Aja displays a great feel for this location filled with pipes, bricks, muck, rats, and excrement. Too few films utilize this naturally terrifying locale; as Haley crawls through the mud in search of her father, I was reminded of Russell Crowe making his way to a dead body in L.A. Confidential.

Given that this is an alligator film from director Aja, known for a cruel streak in many of his horror films, Crawl also tosses in a handful of supporting characters to be used as gator bait: a trio of looters Haley attempts to signal (Anson Boon, George Somner, and Ami Metcalf) and a pair of cops who know she might be there (Ross Anderson and Jose Palma).

The majority of the film is Haley and Dad in the quickly-flooding crawlspace, however, and Aja cannily ups the tension with each progressive gator bite: as Haley attempts each new way out only to be deterred, the options for escape get narrower and the stakes quickly rise.

While the alligators in Crawl are generally CGI creations, effects work in the dark, murky locale is solid, though the creatures don’t always seem behave like their real-world counterparts. Gore effects, meanwhile - including a scene where one character is pulled into pieces by a swarm of gators - are nastily first-rate.

How well does Crawl fare in the alligator/crocodile genre? It’s not quite as effective as Rogue or Black Water, two Aussie killer croc movies both released in 2007, but it’s leaner and meaner and generally better than Lake Placid, a campy Hollywood effort from the previous decade often cited as a genre highlight.

Like the shark movie, the alligator picture isn’t renowned for quality among its ranks, and doesn’t even have a Jaws-like classic to highlight the genre (1980’s tongue-in-cheek creature feature Alligator, I guess, would come closest). But there’s a real primal fear to be mined from these ages-old Crocodilia, and director Aja does them justice here. For summer audiences looking for some scary alligator thrills, Crawl is just the ticket.

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