‘Crawl’: Killer Alligators Break Their Teeth Biting Into Summer Movie Competition
Alexandre Aja’s “Crawl” plays like the meanest anti-tourism ad for Florida ever made. Determined to end your vacation to the Sunshine State before it begins, Aja submerges his audience into a uniquely southern nightmare that hopes to bring some thunder and rain to a summer movie season that has caught itself in a dead heat.
We meet Haley (Kaya Scodelario) fresh off of a swim meet that she has lost by just seconds. She’s rather frustrated but with a category five hurricane rolling into town, Haley has bigger problems. Her estranged father Dave (Barry Pepper) is trapped in their old family home which is in the epicenter of the storm. She finds him barely clinging to life in a tight crawl space underneath the house, severely injured by two gigantic alligators who have gotten cozy as the water rises higher by the minute.
It makes sense that Aja, who helmed the cult hit “Piranha 3D,” would jump at the chance to cause some more aquatic mayhem. He’s certainly great at setting the mood, creating a Florida that is foreboding at best and flat out unforgiving at worst. He uses the hurricane as a character who begins as a mild annoyance and progressively turns into a full-on supervillain. The first act does a solid job of building a sense of dread around the storm and up until Haley finds her father, there’s creepy atmosphere to spare. Unfortunately, once the gators take center stage, “Crawl” never finds a tone that gels. It attempts to fuse a goofy creature feature with a genuine story of forgiveness between a father and daughter and the mixture never quite settles.
All of the strongest moments come when Aja cuts loose and meshes his mischievous bloodlust with some new tricks of the trade that he’s picked up from producer Sam Raimi. He does a terrific job utilizing the tight geography of the crawl space. Each corner feels tighter than the last and every step through the water feels like it could land on one of our scaly foes. He knows how to deliver on a jump scare, rarely cheaping out with a false alarm and often giving the audience an immensely satisfying and brutally violent action beat to go with it. There are some straight-up “vomit in your mouth” practical gore effects here that really sell just how powerful the chompers on these alligators are and Aja gives us a fair few moments to wince at those injuries. However, it’s a shame that not all alligator bites are created equal in this universe. Some pierce through skin and bone at lightning speed while others just give Haley and co a small scrape or two. It also doesn’t help that the CGI Alligators look strikingly fake compared to the gore effects, making the two feel borderline disconnected.
The real weakness comes from the screenplay, which fills itself with melodramatic character beats as rapidly as the house fills with water. All of the dialogue between Haley and Dave feels forced and soapy, often throwing off the pace of an intense sequence to rehash basic family drama that should not even be crossing their minds. Scodelario and Pepper both struggle with this poor dialogue, only coming alive on screen when they’re relying on their reactions alone. Scodelario does show strong scream queen potential here, though.
While “Crawl” does have a handful of moments that deliver on its deliciously campy premise, it ultimately falls short of being the full on romp that it promises. The movie lacks the tongue in cheek charms of “Piranha,” which limits what Aja is able to deliver on a visceral level. It needed to be a particular kind of wild to stand out in a summer where several films getting pumped out are generic, but ultimately, it gives us a category three storm, at best.
“Crawl” opens July 12 in theaters nationwide.