Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Sometimes the simplest concepts work because they are simple. Two people trapped in a confined space with a hungry predator and little hope of rescue. Crawl uses this setup skillfully, creating tension with minimal use of jump scares and gore that is well-timed and not overdone. Unlike a lot of horror movies, it is pretty clear what the characters have to do to survive. The question is are they smart, crafty and, most importantly, fast enough to do it. There are no subplots and just enough character development so we know who these people are. The story is extraordinarily straight-forward and ends as soon as it reaches its conclusion. There is not a lot of mystery here. There are only two possible outcomes: survival or death. All Crawl wants is for its audience to be on the edge of its seat. It is surprisingly successful.
Haley goes looking for her father in the middle of a category 5 hurricane. She finds him trapped in the crawl space under their old family home, with an alligator lurking nearby. On top of that, the house is slowly filling with water. Now they have to use their ingenuity, and Haley’s incredible swimming ability, to find a way out before they drown or get eaten.
The biggest thing going for Crawl is its complete lack of distractions. It takes about twenty minutes to establish Haley, her relationship with her father and the scenario. Then it concentrates on their attempts to escape their dire predicament. Of course, if they can even get past the gator, they will still have the hurricane to deal with. But first things first. Alexandre Aja and his screenwriters, brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, have structured things as simply as possible. Once the movie finds its way into the crawl space it becomes “here are the characters, here is where they need to go, can they make it without being eaten?” They set up the space and the objective so well both visually and verbally that it is easy for the viewer to imagine themselves in that situation. That is a pretty effective way to build tension.
They hold that tension by not overthinking things in terms of their threat. There is no gimmick here. The alligator is not giant or a mutant or given human characteristics. Being stuck in an enclosed area with an alligator is scary enough. Keeping things uncomplicated increases the realism, making the drama easier to relate to. As I understand it, there are some issues with the way Crawl depicts Florida houses and the way the state reacts to hurricanes. It is apparently not 100% accurate to real life. However, it creates an internal logic it consistently sticks to, never cheating to build suspense. That made it real enough for this viewer.
Crawl is a very fast moving 83 minutes (minus the end credits). There is not an ounce of fat on its body. It is part horror, part disaster movie with each complimenting the other. It does not try to do anything new or appeal to anyone besides those intrigued by the poster showing a menacing alligator in the middle of a storm. You will likely be reminded of many other movies as you watch it. Thankfully, it turned out to be reasonably tense, exciting and laser focused on generating thrills with its basic premise. It does not try to do anything else, but it does what it sets out to do quite well.
3½ out of 5
Kaya Scodelario as Haley Keller
Barry Pepper as Dave Keller
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen