Review: Crawl

A film I would never have bothered seeing had it not been a secret screening, Crawl is exactly as shit as you think it’ll be, and squanders what little interesting elements it has.

Florida is about to be slammed by a category five hurricane, but that of course doesn’t faze swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario), who hasn’t heard from absent dad Dave (Barry Pepper) and is urged by her sister to go and check on him. Finding him at their old family home, Haley and Dave are trapped by the intense wind and rain and a troupe of hungry alligators.

There’s not much more to say than this film is just as crap as it looks like it might be. The fun of the secret screenings run by Cineworld is that the Unlimited members have the chance to potentially see something exciting ahead of release, or something they might not have given a chance but were happy to see (case in point: Love, Simon). On this occasion, we were “gifted” with Crawl.

Suffice to say, at least 15  people left during the movie (including one who, inexplicably, left it until 10 minutes from the end to decide it wasn’t for them). One of the people on my row stayed but elected to read in the dark, while a woman on the opposite side of the theatre improved the experience dramatically by hysterically laughing at scenes of alligator slaughter.

None of this is a good sign, let’s be honest. Director Alexandre Aja has previous in the the truly ridiculous Piranha 3D, and doesn’t improve his reputation with Crawl, for which the saving grace is that it’s over in 90 minutes. The film, shockingly, has screenwriters – Michael and Shawn Rasmussen – but could have been entirely improvised, such is its poor (cliched) quality.

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What I will give them is the setting, which felt honestly quite unique – the hurricane is not the main source of danger, but it’s a novel setting for any horror and could have been an excellent backdrop (and extra hazard) for a better movie. Instead we’re back in the scary wild animal horror playground, with alligators of the CGI and therefore non scary kind. There’s no real heft or terror because they’re not practical, though practical gore effects were impressively grisly for a 15.

Like so many dangerous animal films, the movie sets up rules about their weaknesses that are essentially forgotten when it comes to the punch, and unfortunately the jump scare is the order of the day – if you’ve seen even one terrible horror in your life, you’ll know when they’re coming.

Aja’s filmmaking is however not all bad. The focus on only two characters – a father and a daughter – means that we’re spared a cast of people to be eaten (most are essentially cameos). This allows for expectation and tension as to which of the two might make it, and some cliched estranged father-daughter exposition among the set pieces.

I will also grant that when it doesn’t use horrendous CGI to depict the roiling storm or floods – and stays inside the house – the sets are excellent, filled with character and forming a believable, ramshackle Floridian swamp home. If the film had been entirely stuck inside throughout, with a tighter focus, it might have been better.

However, its pace, and intended audience of those not fussed about character depth, but just want alligator carnage, means the whole thing is barrelling towards its conclusion after a slow burn first half hour. A sense of claustrophobia is only apparent at the start and right at the end, again a consequence of deciding to take us outside the home rather than trap the characters inside for the whole film.

Its grainy, digital look is awful outside but earthily grim inside, cinematographer Maxime Alexandre doing better work inside because there aren’t any greenscreens to ruin everything; while the pulsating score from Max Aruj and Steffen Thum is pretty forgettable but impactful when it needs to drag tension levels up.

It’s nice to only have to discuss two cast members, especially because they aren’t that good. Scodelario is not an empathetic heroine, and while it certainly looks like she went through the wringer, she just doesn’t have enough charisma or ability to anchor the movie or make you care. Barry Pepper is better though, evoking a bedraggled and pathetic, lonely man with his drawn features, making the best of some snatched scenes to attempt to provide an emotional core.

If anything, the best performance is from Cso-Cso, playing Dave’s dog Sugar, one of the only things the film has going for it. You care about the fate of the dog from minute one, and despite not acting (remember, it’s just well trained) it’s a more convincing emotional touchstone than either of the main actors – a damning indictment of the film.

Don’t pay to see this, please. If you’re really that invested then wait for it to go on Netflix (this was made for a bored, trashy hour and a half waste of time when scrolling through).

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