Wait until you can stream this…
Crawl tells the story of Haley (Kaya Scodelario) as she attempts to rescue her father from a basement filled with alligators. This is all the movie is, nothing more, nothing less. It is a remarkably simple film, but this proves a hindrance as well as a strength.
Its simple premise allows for a very lean film. No understanding of a previous film is required, like most action thrillers released this summer. You can just go in and enjoy it for what it is: a B movie thriller about alligators. It is also really short. At only 88 minutes long, this film establishes that Haley is an athletic swimmer with a less than perfect relationship with her dad, then dives straight into the alligator vs. human action. The alligators are not introduced very well: they just appear randomly with no prior foreshadowing, and are not threatening in their first couple of scenes. However, as more and more looters and rescuers are torn apart, their threat level, and the tension, grows. Time is not wasted on subplots or scenes that may slow other movies of the genre down. This film is dedicated solely to its premise of making alligators an intimidating threat.
However, this leanness is also a detriment. Other than the fact Haley is a swimmer and a bit annoyed at her dad, there is nothing notable about her. It is hard to connect with any of the characters because you are never given a chance to get to know them. You never want them to be eaten, but you’re never bothered if they do or not. Other than one clunky scene where father and daughter try to hash out their relationship issues, very little time is given to developing the characters. This is an issue bigger than the alligators themselves.
Further, the film also struggles to find new twists and to keep the audience engaged with shocking a turn of events. The characters only run (swim or crawl) from alligators. All that changes is the setting as the leads move from the titular crawl space to outside. The crawl space idea is an interesting premise, but this narrative could have benefited from either being shorter, or having more twists and turns. Despite being over an hour and a half shorter than a film like Avengers: Endgame, it feels much longer.
What the film loses from simplicity of narrative, it gains from some excellent cinematography. The gore and action is captured with an eclectic range of different shots taken from all angles. Director Alexandre Aja and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre effectively create a sense of space and sets out the confining limits of that space. You feel boxed in with the characters, and are given engaging perspectives on the bloody violence happening around them. Most of the film is presented in a grey hue akin to that of Man of Steel, constantly reminding the viewer of the storm which allowed the alligators to escape. It also allows for some interesting juxtapositions of colour, as the characters often wear bright coloured jackets, or use red flairs in their attempt to escape. The eye’s attention is never allowed to waver from the screen as a result. Some of the shots in this film look fantastic. The cinematography is where this film finds its strongest bite.
Aja and Alexandre have done a great job with directing and cinematography respectively. It makes the film a lot more interesting to watch, even if its narrative never quite holds your attention. Crawl’s narrative lacks the powerful grip of an alligator’s jaw.