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CINEMASCOPE: CROCODILE FEARS

July 28, 2019

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If you’ve had the misfortunate of watching any of the Sharknado films, then you’ll be forgiven for thinking that Crawl is a mediocre B-movie, going by the premise. Like Sharknado, this film is about creatures let loose during extreme weather conditions. However, this is where the similarities end.

Crawl is a suspenseful and atmospheric film that feels mostly authentic. It’s directed by French filmmaker Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), who’s made a few decent — but not good — horror films. Certainly, Crawl is his best work.

The film stars English actress Kaya Scodelario, who is excellent in her role as the university student Haley Keller. Early on, we learn that she is a swimmer, and when we realise that the film is about a Category 5 hurricane and alligators, we know that her skills as an athlete will come into play later.

Haley is all set to evacuate, like the other people of Florida, to avoid the hurricane when she learns that her divorced father Dave (Barry Pepper) is missing. Soon, this estranged daughter heads to his condo, but can only find his dog, Sugar. I mention this because looking at the little pup, you realise that he could make for a tasty appetizer for an alligator later.

Crawl quickly sinks its teeth into you and won’t let you go

Eventually, Haley and her father’s dog make their way to Dave’s family home through extreme conditions. Haley can’t find her father upstairs, so she heads to the crawl space in the unfinished basement underneath, where she finds him hurt and knocked out. When she tries to drag him out, she discovers some unwelcome guests. Large, hungry and scary alligators have crawled into the house through the storm drain.

While Crawl feels mostly authentic, there are some convenient plot devices. For one, our hero can’t call for help because her phone has been damaged. For the other, homes in Florida do not have basements as they’re directly built on slabs due to the high-water level. This would be especially true of a lake house. Moreover, the basement in this home is a mess. For a basement to be so unfinished, especially in a high-water locality, would be an idiotic decision for a homeowner, because it would result in regular flooding, high insurance premiums and more.

So yes, the film does take a few liberties with logic for the sake of the plot. These misgivings aside, Crawl quickly sinks its teeth into you and won’t let you go as you wait to see what happens next.

Usually, creature films are guilty of bestowing creatures with super strength and speed. But the gators here behave realistically. They are fast and frightening, without breaking our suspension of disbelief. Likewise, the film is also appreciably restrained in its pacing, happy to play on our fears — though there is some gratuitous violence as looters and well-intentioned police officers meet their doom.

The chemistry between Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper is good. While the strain in their complicated relationship is a bit of clichéd father-daughter fare with some regulation flashbacks, they make it work through their performances. Daughters who have had tough but fair relationships with their fathers shall find extra mileage from Crawl. So will people afraid of alligators and water.

Rated R for bloody creature violence, and brief language

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 28th, 2019