This is going to be a challenge to myself: I want to talk about a movie that I enjoyed, but it’s not some kind of screaming glee of OMG THIS IS THE BEST EVER. It’s way easier to talk about things when you really love them, and easiest of all to brutally ice pick a movie that you loathe. But Crawl was just kind of fun, you know? It was one of those movies that knows exactly what kind of move it is, leans into it, has a good time, and then wings away into the night, satisfied at a job well done.
What’s it about? It’s a downright claustrophobic story with only two real characters (the other humans are mostly there to be reptile chow). Kaya Scodelario plays Haley, a young woman on the college swim team who’s starting to doubt herself, and Barry Pepper plays her dad Dave. The two have been a bit estranged since Dave and Haley’s mom got divorced. But Haley, prompted by her older sister Beth, drives down to check on their dad in the middle of a hurricane, because he’s not answering his phone. She finds him in the world’s most ridiculous crawlspace, unconscious because he’s been savagely attacked by an alligator–which is after Haley now, too. It’s up to Haley to save the day with guts, determination, and her plot-relevant swimming skills.
Crawl is very much a monster movie in the classic sense. You start off with the monster (in this case, extremely hungry alligators plus a hurricane) as a distant threat that gets ever closer, and worse, and then there’s an epic, cathartic battle to be had. I think what helps up the tension in Crawl is that it’s so. damn. claustrophobic. Even when the monsters are at their furthest (and fewest), you can still feel them breathing down the back of your neck. Most of the movie takes place in the house’s labyrinthine crawlspace that looks like it should be home to the world’s shortest serial killer. Haley and Dave have to thread themselves around pipes, avoid the monsters in the maze, and do all of this while crouching in a space that’s filling with water at an accelerating rate–did I mention the hurricane? They sneak, they run, they hide, they go through multiple try-fail cycles where the failure is more urgent and devestating with each iteration. Oh yeah, and they have a dog (who is super cute and named Sugar) in the movie too, so be ready to have constant anxiety about that. The only break in the claustrophobic tension of the crawlspace is the occasional view outside, where we see potential human rescuers get gloriously nommed by ever-increasing swarms (packs? whatever.) of alligators.
What makes the movie really work is the extreme closeness of the emotional story. It’s a pretty small, simple one–Haley and Dave need to sort out the tangled mess between them, caused by Dave pushing Haley too hard to compete when she was a child, and Haley blaming Dave for the family falling apart. They’re shoved into a small space together and threatened with toothy death on every side, so as they try to come up with new ideas to save themselves, they also try to come to peace with each other in case it doesn’t work. Perhaps shockingly for a monster movie that takes itself with a deliberate slice of narrative cheese, the emotional story really works and really resonates. I cared about Haley and Dave, who are actually smart and competent people in a shitty situation; they never made me root for their bloody demise. All credit goes to the actors on this one; in the hands of others, it could have become downright cringey instead of heartfelt.
So see this one if you like monster movies. And like with many monster movies that don’t use supernatural monsters, you just have to come in with a willing suspension of disbelief. Sure, that’s not normal alligator behavior. Sure, category five hurricanes don’t work like that. Sure, it makes no architectural sense to have an elaborate crawlspace in a flood-prone state with a notoriously high water table. I’m still personally trying to make sense of the scene involving the drain, where the house seems to be attached to a boundless void that alligators can hang out and raise their families in. All of that stuff is really beside the fucking point, though, and I think it’s another factor in Crawl‘s favor that I’m happy to grant its alternate reality because it sets up such a fun, self-contained movie.
Long live the apex predator.