Monster films sometimes suffer from several maladies: a too-large cast of players, lack of character depth, bad acting, horrible dialogue, and an attempt to mask these shortcomings with elaborate settings.
Crawl, directed by Alexandre Aja, deviates from each of these to hatch a creature feature that not only keeps the viewer on edge, but also goes beneath the surface by exploring a strained father/daughter relationship.
Hurricane Wendy intensifies its attack along the Florida coast. Collegiate competitive swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her father Dave (Barry Pepper) get trapped in the crawl space beneath their family’s former home. Massive alligators wait to tear them limb from limb. Attempts to escape get thwarted. Jump scares mount. Protagonists take a major beating. Water rises. Tension mounts. No matter what your bladder tells you, you can’t walk away.
The film’s strengths lie in its minimal cast (i.e. two main characters) and its confined setting, which, during breaks in the action, enable exploration of Haley’s childhood—perhaps Dave pushed too hard to advance his daughter’s swimming career. Both Scodelario and Pepper convincingly convey the emotional and physical pain they confront . . . and there’s no shortage of physical pain in this one.
Dave points out that Haley is an “apex predator” and that her swimming limitations stem not from physical inadequacies, but rather from mental blocks. The calamity in which they find themselves will repeatedly put to the test Haley’s ability to swim past her fears—it’s no coincidence that she’s a member of the University of Florida’s Gators swim team.
Forget that the alligators in this film are way too big. Ignore that creatures with quarter-sized brains make coordinated attacks. Crawl delivers enough conflict and suspense to make it a satisfying monster movie.—Douglas J. Ogurek ****