The studio-backed creature feature is apparently still alive and well, despite the constant swings towards low-rent laughs from the Sharknados and Velocipastors of the world. Not only are the big nasties of the ocean deep still bringing in the big bucks however many decades now post-Jaws, they’re still attracting some genre-favourite directors too; with mainstays like Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows) and Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D) throwing their names into the ring, the latter joining forces with none other than Sam Raimi for this latest bite of monster mayhem.
The cleverly-assembled Crawl finds Kaya Scodelario’s champion swimmer Haley thrusting herself into the middle of a Florida hurricane, desperately searching for her stubborn, recently divorced dad (Barry Pepper), who’s for whatever reason, decided to bury himself in the basement of their old family home. With weather-warnings abound, she finally makes contact with him, only to find that there’s a particularly hungry alligator in their midst – and with the street flooding and the water level in the basement slowing rising, it’s do or die for the pair of them.
A killer (if a little silly) set-up, and crocs and gators certainly aren’t anything new for the genre (take a bow Lake Placid), but Aja paces his film very differently to how you might expect (no spoilers here) and with plenty of bumpy surprises along the way, a lot of what’s to come does manage to feel like new ground.
Likewise with Scodelario and Pepper, there’s a resourcefulness to both of their characters that’s refreshing (very little screaming at the screen needed), and an innate tension to their relationship that keeps things on their toes for sure. It’s a straight-forward set-up with some tricky, twisty inner-parts, landing as the perfect combination for a disaster-stroke-monster-thriller like this; enough to please the usual crowds looking for cheap cheers, with a little extra for anyone trying to get invested too.
Although it must be added that if Crawl starts to falter anywhere, it’s in this constant desire to go one-better than what you might be expecting. Aja is anything but patient when it comes to both his scares and his action; from when the gator joins the party, all the way through to the very exhausted conclusion, it’s a-mile-a-minute storytelling, which lands as both exhilarating and almost frustrating in equal measure. Sequences that feel hungry for a meaty build-up get left in the dust incredibly quickly, caught up in the madness of the gore, and the frenzied race to the finish that the final act becomes doesn’t hit with quite the same impact as clearly intended.
All-in, it’s a fun, if not game-changing bit of gator-infused fun, that might overstep a little in its ambitions, but delivers plenty of crowd-pleasing moments. Aja’s still happily chipping away at the studio-system, squishing in some delightfully nasty practical effects among the usual CG-wash, and in Crawl, he and Raimi have found a happy successor to the old-school Jaws clone.
You can see our interviews from Crawl here.
Crawl was screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2019, and is out in UK cinemas now.