The humble B-movie has to be the most resilient film in Hollywood. Genres will come and go, whether they’re musicals, westerns, superheroes or rom coms, but look at just about any decade, and there’ll be an audience hungry for cheap thrills. (These thrills tend to be cheap both artistically and financially.)
Films like Crawl tend to do well come summertime – it promises a simple, strong premise and it delivers atmosphere, jump scares, a little gore and even topical themes.
When we meet Hayley (Kaya Scodelario), she’s taking part in an intense swimming race. (This, as you might imagine, becomes a relevant skill later in the film.) Shortly after that race, she’s driving down south to visit her father. She’s concerned that she hasn’t heard from him and a lethal hurricane is about to tear this corner of Florida apart.
For much of the first act, we hear of her father (Barry Pepper) without seeing him, giving the film and his character a certain “where’s Poochie?” quality. In other words, he looms large in her psyche.
We know their relationship is troubled by the time she arrives at his house, where he‘s trapped in the basement while waters rise and the spectre of crocodiles loom. Hayley, showing bravery and loyalty, enters the basement to try to save him…
Can this daughter and father use their collective wits and skills to evade and survive the onslaught of amphibious attackers? Who, we’re asked, are the apex predators here?
Like Blake Lively’s character in the similar film The Shallows, Hayley must use ingenuity and courage, while also confronting the demons of her past if she is to survive the monsters of the present.
This film works. It’s a puzzle movie, putting us in the (wet) shoes of the protagonists while they work out their enemies’ weaknesses (size, stupidity) and their strength (jaws!). Both lead actors carry the film well, and are believable as father and daughter. Scodelario, like all the best scream queens, has enormous eyes.
Horror films often reflect the fears of their times, and Crawl’s duel monsters are crocodiles and – arguably – the effects of climate change. The storm-ravaged city and flooded streets in Crawl are all too familiar to anyone who watches the news.
The crocodiles are never far away from Crawl’s heroes, but they appear only fleetingly. This is not just solid storytelling, but it means that the film is not leaning to heavily on the CGI crocs. While not quite as cartoonish as the reptiles that attacked Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser, they’re far more convincing in murky underwater than on land.
Alexandre Aja has never quite equalled his breakout horror Switchblade Romance (aka High Tension), but he does a solid job here. It’s an admirably murky film, bringing you right down to the mud alongside the rat traps, pipes and all sorts of other things that might lead to a tetanus shot.
It should also be acknowledged how lean this film is. In an age of ever-increasing running times, Crawl comes in at admirable lean 87 minutes. Are we allowed to say it’s…snappy?