By Bob Garver
“Crawl” is a horror movie with a simple enough premise: Haley (Kaya Scodelario) has to rescue her father (Barry Pepper) from the basement of their Florida home during a hurricane. Obstacles include steadily rising flood waters, the impending threat of a surge of water if a levee breaks, the father’s injury from an alligator attack, and of course the alligators themselves. It’s mostly about the gators, with the hurricane not helping.
This is definitely a “creature feature,” where the villain is an animal or group of animals that wants to chow down on our heroes. The king in the genre is “Jaws,” which like this movie primarily takes place in water. Humans may rule the land, but predatory animals rule the two-thirds of the planet that is covered in water, so who’s really in charge? The shark in “Jaws” can be easily avoided as long as people stay out of the water (“but it’s tourist season and that’s not an option!”), but the hurricane in this movie helpfully brings the water to our heroes, and the setting becomes less and less their domain as the movie progresses.
As creature feature antagonists go, the alligators in this movie are… average, maybe a notch or two below. The CGI isn’t terribly convincing, these particular gators are dumb and clumsy (grown-woman Haley and her father are safe behind a pipe that the gators can’t circumvent), and just on a personal level, alligators don’t scare me that much. I figure they can be fought off with a good stomp or two, though this movie wisely traps its heroes in the title type of space where they have to maneuver using the title type of motion, restricting their movements and putting them in prime position for alligator attacks, which makes my skin do the title action.
The movie needs to establish that the gators are deadly, but the main cast is just two people (and a dog whose chances are not what I would call “great”). The solution is to throw in three people looting a gas station across from the house and a pair of cops who have to go looking for Haley and her father after she violates a roadblock. I felt bad for the cops, as they arguably never should have been put in danger, but I’m fine with rooting for the gators against the looters. The film’s preferred method of killing is to have people dragged under the water, followed by blood bubbling to the surface. The exception is one poor chap who very clearly gets torn limb from limb, with “from limb” being needed about six more times.
Weirdly, this movie seems like it only decided at the last minute that it wanted an R rating. It could have gotten a PG-13 relatively easily by dialing back the red food coloring and cutting some gratuitous swearing out of a single scene. As it is, it’s more deserving of an R than “Annabelle Comes Home” (where the most violent thing is a second-long look at a car crash victim), but I have to wonder if appealing to adults who want a more visceral experience is worth sacrificing the teen audience that could have turned out in larger numbers.
“Crawl” is successful in playing into fears about claustrophobia, pressure, failure, murky waters, slimy surfaces, and maybe alligators if that flips your trigger. It doesn’t pack too much of a punch, but I can at least say that it’s the best horror movie in theaters right now. “Annabelle Comes Home” is just the “Conjuring” franchise’s bland leftovers, and don’t buy into the hype surrounding the well-shot but undaunting “Midsommar.” But there’s no reason to go out of your way to see this movie unless you need to fill the gap between obligatory viewings of “Spider-Man: Far from Home” last week and “The Lion King” next week.
“Crawl” is rated R for bloody creature violence, and brief language. Its running time is 87 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at [email protected].