Sold on the premise of being an outlandish horror film, the likes of which producer Sam Raimi built a career on, Crawl is a decent film with B-grade horror ambitions that unfortunately takes its over-the-top premise too seriously.
Upon hearing the news of an impending hurricane, Haley (played admirably by Kaya Scodelario) returns to her home town to locate her father (Barry Pepper). The hurricane proves the least of her worries as Haley, accompanied by the family pooch Sugar, must survive against a barrage of giant alligators that have a taste for human.
Crawl’s desire to be thematic follows an ongoing trend from Paramount Pictures, who after releasing Annihilation, A Quiet Place and Pet Semetary (2019) have seemingly hedged their bets on delivering horror films that exist as meditations on grief and loss. The fusion of themes can work well with horror, deepening the emotional connection with the viewer and adding layers to a genre film as being more than jump scares.
That being said, being allegorical gets in the way of Crawl relishing in its absurd premise. The inclusion of family issues ground Crawl in a reality that actually gnaws away at the film’s sense of fun. It’s an effort that ultimately proves contradictory to how the film is being marketed, as though the studio was too self-conscious to release a proudly superficial horror-thriller in a post Get Out world.
Crawl’s desire to be serious is undermined by a screenplay fueled by plot turns that feel more convenient than organic. Haley’s background as a competitive swimmer, for example, serves to undo moments of tension, particularly when faced by chomping gators. The effort made by Crawl to shy away from its campy potential prevents it from reaching the same enjoyable heights as The Meg and the later chapters in the Fast and the Furious franchise; successful films that embrace their exaggerated storylines to provide a popcorn-munching fun time at the movies.
Nevertheless, Crawl is by no means a bad movie. Director Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes) crafts some deftly dark and dirty set pieces, and there’s a tangible sense of claustrophobia that lingers throughout the entirety of the film.
It is Crawl’s hesitancy, its unwillingness to fully have fun with its premise that – despite its solid elements – ultimately makes it a difficult film to come to grips with. Call this reviewer a dreamer, longing for a time when under-water CGI animal movies relished in their OTT-goodness, instead of being ashamed by it.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Crawl’ opened in Australian cinemas on July 11 and hit US cinemas on July 12.