It's been a couple of years since I've seen an example of that perennial favorite among horror movies: "Big hungry monster chases cast." In fact, I think it was probably 2017's 47 Meters Down. Happily, the genre inaugurated by its first and arguably still best representative, Jaws, is well and proudly represented by the more modest Crawl — modest in that it doesn't concern an entire island of beachgoers like on Amity Island, nor an entire park full of fleeing hors d'oeuvres as in Jurassic World, just two people trapped in close quarters with a patient diner.
Director Alexandre Aja (2013's Horns) presents the simple proposition that competitive swimmer Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) heads to her Florida home during a Category 5 hurricane to discover why her father, Dave (Barry Pepper), doesn't seem to be among the evacuees fleeing the path of the storm. There's a pretty good reason, which Haley discovers when she investigates their cellar and finds her injured father trapped by a hungry alligator.
That's about as complicated as Crawl gets, other than the approaching hurricane which presents its own set of deadly problems, and which melds the "creature feature" aspect with the also popular "disaster movie" genre. I appreciate the film's elegant simplicity, complicated only by a fairly brief scene when, facing imminent death, daughter and father address the fact that they've drifted apart in recent years.
Scodelario, who some will recall from the Maze Runner saga and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, acquits herself admirably as the tenacious heroine, and it's always a pleasure to see Pepper, who co-starred in a couple of the Maze Runner entries, although the fact that the 49-year-old was deemed old enough to play an elderly dad is somewhat disconcerting.
Even though Crawl is essentially a two-person drama — three, if you count Sugar, their dog — there are other stars, though they're behind the scenes. Production designer Alan Gilmore, art director for films such as World War Z and X-Men: First Class, creates an extremely claustrophobic and nasty environment in Dave's cellar, heightening the creepiness of knowing you're being stalked by a huge reptile that sees you as dinner. I can't imagine it would have been a pleasant shoot for actors or crew.
Then there are the effects by Rodeo FX — and I'm not necessarily talking about the alligator scenes, which I'm presuming are a mixture of animatronic and CGI effects. Rather, I'm talking about the hurricane and flood effects, which are terrifying and topnotch in every way, and all for a measly $13.5 million. That might be a bundle for most of us personally, but it's a pittance as far as major studio production budgets go. In a summer otherwise dominated by $200 million blockbusters, Crawl squeezes the bang out of its buck.
Still, I have quibbles, and I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't mention them. First and foremost of which is that very few homes in Florida are blessed with basements, creepy or otherwise, but at least director Aja portrays this one as being very shallow. Second, while I very much admire Rodeo's effects, it actually seems to me that the hurricane is never as deadly as it would really be, something most evident in the film's watery and windy climax.
Crawl isn't going to get nominated for Best Picture. But it’s admirably dedicated to succeeding within the province of a strong, B-grade monster movie.
And it lived up to the most important metric for such an experience: I was entertained.