Crawl is the surprise of the summer. It’s brisk and efficient with some really scary sequences and best watched with an audience.
University of Florida student Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) spends every second of her life engaging with the sport of swimming, an activity encouraged by her father Dave (Barry Pepper), who’s been less present at her competitions since he divorced Haley’s mother. Haley attributes her parents’ split to her father devoting too much of his time to supporting her, laying the foundations for kinship drama when she concerningly heads to his home in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.
The family can barely invest the tensions of their personal history during the natural chaos. With the assistance of the Keller’s dog, Sugar, Haley heads underneath the family house and finds Dave unconscious in the large crawl space, which becomes the claustrophobic milieu for a hair-raising showdown with voracious alligators. It’s like The Shallows but with lizards instead of sharks. The first time a gator arrives, we see it in its full terrifying glory because Alexandre Aja doesn’t want to waste time mythologising the villain. It’s not about what they look like – we already know that – it’s about just how many of these frightening beings are lurking in the waters. We find out through an electrifying assault to our fear circuits.
The jump scare count goes through the roof like the rapidly rising water that destroys the Keller home; it’s so high that the audience has to find moments of levity through their own means because the filmmaker won’t provide them. But the best thing about the jump scares are that every one of them is a genuine moment of terror – no worries about laziness or fakeouts here. This simple concept is a sensational genre exercise as Aja creates horror through suddenness, squirm-inducing gore and leaving us to imagine the creatures’ whereabouts. Limbs are chomped as if the reptiles are having a pizza party – wholly, frequently and without prejudice.
Empathy for the characters is easily achieved thanks to economic storytelling and great performances: a few words say a lot, and the heavy backstory is interlinked to the survival – there’s never been a better time for Haley to utilise her lifelong learning to swim. Crawl is the most rip-roaring disaster film in a while, enlivened by strong character work.
Crawl is released nationwide on 23rd August 2019.
Watch the trailer for Crawl here: