Gators Earn Their Jaws In Crawl (2019)
In Crawl (2019), the villainous reptiles terrorizing the poorly humans are meant to be alligators, not crocodiles. The difference between alligators and crocodiles lies in a contrast of behavior and appearance, as I learnt through a quick google search that rendered me an expert on herpetology. Alligators have more blunt snouts than crocodiles, which gives them greater bite strength than their evolutionary counterparts. Also, alligators are known to be more docile than crocodiles, usually only attacking if hungry or provoked. Knowing this after having seen the film, I can say with confidence that the CG gators of Crawl must have been designed with five empty stomachs.
Director Alexandre Aja’s creature feature is in the vein of his previous entry in the genre: Piranha. A proud B-picture with a nasty streak, the intent of Crawl is to be for alligators what Jaws was for sharks. Set in a hurricane-ailed Florida, the film follows college swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) on her quest to retrieve her father (Barry Pepper) from their family home. A category-5 is approaching the city, and the man has not been picking up his calls. Haley, of course, drives straight to him. After finding her battered old-man in the basement with a hole in his shoulder and a gash in his leg, our heroine has to contend with a number of massive lizards.
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Having snuck in through the truly enormous overflow pipe running out of the basement of the old house (in all seriousness, this outlet could serve as the sewer for a small village), alligators have infested the underside of the home. Water is pouring in and the basement is being submerged, transforming slowly into a hotbed for animal violence. Those animals are truly monsters, sadistic villains who do not even seem to be in it for the hunt. They roam the waters seeking “prey” that they only seem interested in maiming. Aja’s gators are delightful haunted-house props, timing their assaults at precisely the right moments to elicit a jump from the viewer. They are unabashedly artificial, both in their CGI form and remarkable capacity for cruelty. They make for fantastic baddies.
Equivalent quality is not to be found, however, in the human protagonists. In the script written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, dialogue is an after-thought. The focus is on contriving as many perilous scenarios as the constrained setting allows for. We are treated to some hackneyed father-daughter relationship drama, though that is glossed over quickly enough to prevent it from registering. Aja and editor Elliot Greenberg keep the pace of every scene as tight as possible, so the fleet 87 minutes of the runtime pack multitudes of reptile action. While those do dry out a bit near the end (there are only so many ways you can put characters through the gator gauntlet before repetition sinks in), the value for time is appreciated. I do wonder, however, if this film could have benefitted from being even shorter. An hour-long runtime would perhaps be too out of the ordinary for this crowd-pleasing film, but it might have helped by cutting out all of the fluff the filmmakers still managed to push into Crawl (such as some tiresome flashbacks to Haley’s previous failures).
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Ultimately, the most satisfying function of the humans is to serve as chew-toys for the long-toothed reptiles pursuing them. A couple of the bites in Crawl are splendidly gnarly, teeth piercing bone and all sorts of blood pooling in perpetually frothing water. It feels as if the writers tried forcing as many bite-scenes into the script as they could, to the effect that almost every time you assume the characters could not possibly be pierced further, a pair of jaws emerges mercilessly from some part of the screen. Aja is certainly adept at timing his jump-scares: there are some enjoyable ones in here. He pushes his premise as far as it can go without entering Sharknado territory; as it is, a little sequence involving a gun and a swimming race between human and gator are the peaks of ludicrousness Crawl reaches (admittedly, those moments are quite ridiculous).
All in all, the movie is a fun distraction without much in the way of memorability. There are two things I will probably remember: 1) To build up the body count, the Rasmussen brothers introduce some pointless filler characters whose sole purpose is to writhe as they are consumed by the evils of the swamp. The sole unscathed character suggests that the filmmakers have a soft-spot for animals of the corporeal, non-CGI variety. 2) The song that plays over the end credits indicates a sense of humor that makes precious little appearances during the film proper. A pity.