After last year’s overlooked but hugely enjoyable Hurricane Heist (which was even better than Geostorm, if you can believe it), we now have Hurricane Gator, combining two great genres – the natural disaster movie and the creature feature. Crawl is absolutely everything you could want from a Summer movie – the experience of watching it is like being on a theme park ride, it’s UNDER 90 minutes (praise be!) and refreshingly, it is not a sequel, a reboot or franchise fare. It’s actually a pretty taut (almost) two-hander that focuses on a father-daughter duo facing off against a giant alligator duo (relationship unknown) in the flooded basement of a Florida home during a hurricane.
Hayley (Kaya Scodelario, known for Skins and the Maze Runner films) is on a swimming scholarship at college, her sister calls her to let her know there is bad hurricane on its way and she hasn’t heard from their Dad, played by Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan). Hayley volunteers to make the two hour drive south to go check on her father. We get intermittent flashbacks of Hayley’s Dad coaching her in her swimming when she was a kid, but things seem tense between the two now. We discover that Hayley’s parents are divorced and the family home is for sale. When Hayley makes it to her father’s place, she finds the family dog Sugar (animal peril alert!), but no sign of her Dad. Turns out, he is in the crawl space under the house, fixing something. When she reaches him, he’s injured, but what caused the injury? SPOILER ALERT: GATOR!
One of the reasons why Crawl is successful is that the central duo are actually good actors and while the dialogue does get a little sentimental and cheesy at times, their sincerity sells it. Coincidentally, Kaya Scodelario’s best performance might be as Cathy in Wuthering Heights directed by Andrea Arnold, who has been in the entertainment news headlines in the last few days for unfortunate reasons (her treatment on the set of the second season of Big Little Lies). Scodelario does a great job here of reacting to CGI gators and trying to hide her fear and pain from her father. Much of the enjoyment comes from watching Hayley use her swimming skills to her advantage in besting the gators – she is obviously fast, but can also hold her breath for an extended period of time.
There are of course, plenty of jump-scares and plenty to keep you on the edge of your seat. Alexandre Aja uses his horror experience from The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Piranha 3D (2010) to skilfully structure the narrative and it is tightly edited, with no waste. Many of the shots look as if they were constructed with 3D showings in mind, so it seems a shame that it does not appear to be available in 3D. The overwhelming feeling when watching Crawl is “who would want to live somewhere plagued by hurricanes, alligators and – in one particularly horrific bit – spiders?” But I say that as someone writing from somewhere that regularly has to deal with fires and earthquakes, so we all have our cross to bear.
Crawl features the trope that once things go tits-up, environmentally speaking, we will be reliant on archaic technology such as wind-up torches, radios and flares. Two features of recent real-life hurricanes are touched upon – looting and levees breaking. The scary thing about Crawl is that there is nothing supernatural or particularly exaggerated about the situation – it is a present-day disaster movie that absolutely could happen, including the gators. Things get pretty gnarly as the gators chomp on various limbs of our central twosome and we also see them kill various unwitting (and arrogant) locals who stray too close. It does serve as a reminder that the alligators were here first (they have been on earth for 200 million years) and it is us humans who are encroaching on their habitat, not the other way around.
It is extremely refreshing that there is the option to go see something original at the cinema this summer, that is still a fun, entertaining ride of a film. 2019 has been absolutely dominated by Disney-owned franchises (Captain Marvel, Endgame, Toy Story 4) and Disney live-action remakes (Dumbo, Aladdin, Lion King), in a depressing takeover of mainstream entertainment. It seems that most original, good-quality films which still have a fairly mainstream appeal now come from the horror world – with Us and Midsommar being strong contenders from this year thus far. Crawl absolutely belongs with those two – not for being particularly ambitious or audacious, but rather, for telling a simple story well. And it’s just a relief not to see that Disney logo for once.
Please note: it is worth looking up this movie on doesthedogdie.com before watching!