9:00 am EDT, July 14, 2019

‘Crawl’ movie review: Light, tight gator-fest is fun as hell

Crawl is a fun-as-hell creature feature throwback that’ll get your heart racing and remind you when the sea levels rise, you better swim.

There are man-eating gators on the loose, and you gotta swim as fast as you can to get away from them. That’s the premise of director Alexandre Aja’s Crawl. The movie is almost too-on-the-nose but also perfectly sets up that, yeah, our fierce protagonist is a badass swimmer. There she is over the movie’s opening credits swimming laps in a race.

Not only that, but she’s been a swimmer since she was young. She knows swimming. Her daddy taught her. All right, you get the point. Our hero’s name is Haley, and she’s played with unrelenting energy by Kaya Scodelario, who gives this wet and wild performance her all.

In one swift phone call from Haley’s sister, we learn everything we need to know about this family dynamic. Haley is still down in Florida with her dad while her sister went up north, and their mom now lives far away with her new boyfriend in Paris. The functioning, disjointed family is immediately understandable, and you get the tension right away.

The problem is, neither of them have heard from their dad, played by Barry Pepper. And so, even with the threat of a category 5 hurricane named Wendy bashing the southern coast of Florida, Haley decides to drive down there to her dad’s apartment to see if he’s OK. When she gets there, the weather is too bad to continue forward, as evacuations are already taking place. In spite of that, she heads on anyway. We know where this is going.

At the apartment, her dad is still nowhere to be found. She goes even further south to their old family home, and it’s there she finds her dad badly injured, taking refuge in the massive crawl space. He’s been bit by something. The gators…they’re coming.

Haley and her dad share a moment of reconciliation before concocting a plan on how to get out of the basement and away from the gator. Haley’s phone gets separated from her and so she must go on the other side of the pipes where they’re hiding to retrieve it. In an incredible moment, as the phone lights up, there’s a flash, and it’s the gaping maw of a second gator chomping down.

That’s right! One crawl space. Two gators. Chasing, swimming, screaming, chomping all ensues, and it’s all quite riveting, terrifying and gory. Alexandre Aja (best known for his surprisingly atmospheric and stylish remake of The Hills Have Eyes) gets down to business in a tight 87-minute runtime, not wasting a second.

What’s so great about this horror tale is that much of what’s happening is completely based in real-life scenarios and circumstances. The threat of danger from the hurricane is very real and grounded in reality. The gators stalking Haley and her dad aren’t super-powered in any way; they simply came in from a flooded drain pipe that led into a nearby lake.

It really is just these two characters against the elements, which makes it even scarier. Aja’s goal here is to thrill, chill and have some fun, but it’s definitely not lost on me the implications of a class divide (Haley and her dad vs. her sister and mom) and, more obviously, the very real threat of extreme weather conditions due to climate change. To set a straight-up horror movie, not disaster movie, in this setting is revelatory in itself.

Crawl really comes to life once we escape the claustrophobic confines of the crawl space and get out into the flooded world. There’s one scene in particular that really stands out, involving a gator, a shower and a well-executed back flip.

The visceral performance from Kaya Scodelario with her extreme athleticism and guttural heaving breaths is a sight to behold. This movie is a kindred spirit with the Blake Lively vs. giant shark movie The Shallows, and a double bill really would be *chef’s kiss*.

What’s really great is that, while having a ton of fun, the script from Michael and Shawn Rasmussen remembers to slow down and really let character development unfold in organic, interesting ways. At its core, the story — gators aside — really is an emotional one about the rekindling of a relationship between father and daughter. And in such a swift amount of time, the movie gets you to care about these two.

But this is also a movie that rolls credits to the song “See You Later Alligator.” It knows how to have fun. It’s dumb, it’s fun, it’s scary, it’s thrilling, and, get this, it’s original! These days, that alone is enough to make a summer movie a cut above the rest. And, hey, when the Earth continues to warm over, and the sea levels begin to rise, thank Crawl for reminding you that you better know how to f*cking swim. Fast.

‘Crawl’ is now in theaters

Official synopsis:

When a massive hurricane hits her Florida hometown, Haley (#KayaScodelario) ignores evacuation orders to search for her missing father (#BarryPepper). Finding him gravely injured in the crawl space of their family home, the two become trapped by quickly encroaching floodwaters. As time runs out to escape the strengthening storm, Haley and her father discover that the rising water level is the least of their fears.

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