Alejandro Aja’s Crawl (2019) clones ideas from various survival thrillers, however it is just as derivative as a movie about fighting a deadly croc could be.
What is Crawl (2019) about?
Florida is about to be hit by a huge hurricane. A professional swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario), is forced to visit her father who lives by the coast, in about time when the natural disaster hits the state.
Just when she arrives at the already flooded house, Haley finds herself trapped in the area. She soon learns what kept her dad away – two gators which severely injured and trapped him in the basement of the house. Now, the two are fighting for their lives in a desperate sprint against time.
Crawl (2019) – A tale about survival of the fittest
Ever since the success of Jaws (1975), various filmmakers attempted to tap into the ever-galvanic concept of deadly nature clashing with poor souls fighting for their lives. A majority of those pictures attract flocks of cinema-goers cheering for their stone-skinned protagonists – like ancient Romans craving to see their favorite gladiators. And Crawl (2019) fits the pattern quite well – it made over $90 million on little over $13 million budget.
Indeed, there’s something primal, or even tantalizing about people who claw their way out of a serious pickle, such as being prey to a bunch of nasty alligators. But the real trap here is to be fully aware of what all those films pinpoint, that is human fragility against the wilderness. In order to achieve this, many copy the premise of their founding father Jaws (1975) – the sheer thrill of facing nature’s most ruthless predators.
Relying on the most basic kind of thrill isn’t necessarily a flaw. But in the case of Crawl (2019), there’s an inherent vice to its design. Alejandro Aja reveals how the protagonist is going to win the brawl against the gators way too early, almost in the first scene. Haley, the fearsome gator’s ass kicker, is a professional swimmer, and the hurricane guarantees one hell of a flood in the area. What does it foreshadow? Well, you do the math.
Despite faults, Crawl (2019) offers decent thrills
The above isn’t a lone fault though. Crawl (2019) has plenty of those obvious, or over-the-top moments. A particularly idiotic scene is when two policemen arrive to rescue Haley and her dad. Despite living in Florida, none of them expects danger that can hide in the muddled waters brought by the natural disaster.
Other than that, the gators aren’t too convincing either. Generated with the blessing of CGI, these running pixels are far behind the practical effects which make the experience far more haunting to me. Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography relies too heavy on green screen too. Crawl (2019) is imbued with a bizarre, over-colorized texture that significantly reduces the rawness of the picture.
On a brighter note, Alejandro Aja is every bit of skillful when it comes to building tension within limited space. Crawl (2019) locates most of its plot in one house, but Aja utilizes all the levels that could come in handy. Once trapped in an ugly-looking basement level of the house, Haley and her daddy explore every corner of the building, as well as face every imaginable peril. Scenes such as the one starring Haley who jumps on floating kitchen tables result in some kind of redeeming.
Kaya Scodelario’s role in Crawl (2019)
In The Shallows (2016), a very close kin to Alejandro Aja’s flick, a vast part of the movie was carried by Blake Lively’s solid, convincing performance. Frankly, Kaya Scodelario, who plays Haley, draws a lot from Lively’s character. Scodelario too aims to bring her feminine fragility and blend it with tough-skinned sportswoman and an overall fighter attitude. But what The Shallows (2016) offered was humor, and Blake Lively’s not-too-serious take that unburdened the film’s heavier moments. Scodelario, on the other hand, has little to play with, because Haley is a formulaic human with no soul.
I’m far from agreeing with Quentin Tarantino, who announced Crawl (2019) as his top of 2019. What the picture lacks is the kind of visceral realism, which would make the horror more palpable. At its best, Alejandro Aja’s movie does justice to its predecessors, and just like them, it cements the truth that nature can’t be reasoned with or tamed. Judging from the series such as Tiger King (2020), maybe we need to be reminded of that every summer.
Crawl (2019) – Culturally Hated or Loved?
While it delivers what could be expected from man-versus-nature plot, Crawl (2019) brings thrills as the ultimate – and only – value.
Hate Grade: 5/10
Director: Alejandro Aja
Writer: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper
Music: Max Aruj & Steffen Thum
Cinematography: Maxime Alexandre
Where to watch: HBO Go
Similar movies to Crawl (2019):
- Jaws (1975) – an all-time classic of survival thrillers,
- The Meg (2018) – an often cringeworthy popcorn blockbuster with huge shark in its center,
- The Grey (2011) – an exciting, taut thriller starring Liam Neeson who faces a pack of ferocious wolves