In the summer of 2016, Jaume Collet-Serra’s shark attack survival thriller and Blake Lively starring vehicle The Shallows was unceremoniously dumped in theaters during a weekend Sony Pictures didn’t expect it to make a lot of noise after a minimal ad campaign. That movie proved to be a modest success, enjoying a positive critical and audience response and remaining in theaters longer than anyone expected it to. That is exactly what Alexandre Aja’s Crawl is this year. Speaking as someone who goes to a lot of movies, I have not seen this trailer play once over the last two months, and only decided to check it out after I was told to. If Crawl succeeds, it will succeed entirely because of word of mouth, as Paramount did not spend any money on advertising it and didn’t even screen it for critics. It’s a shame because this is a lean, thrilling and incredibly tense little movie.
Hailey (Kaya Scodelario) is a Floridian competitive swimmer who shares an estranged relationship with her father (Barry Pepper). On the cusp of a devastating Category 5 hurricane, she drives two hours to check on him. The two become trapped in the house’s basement, and an alligator is terrorizing them. And this alligator has friends that are on their way – many, many more.
This is a film that is taking itself seriously enough to ensure the viewer does too, but also one that’s knowing and winking enough to choose a wildly tongue-in-cheek song for the closing credits. It’s a horror film that doesn’t so much rely on jump scares and more so on ticking-clock tension and the fact that every bit of this could actually happen. The CGI alligators look as good as they possibly could considering the film’s small budget. With each passing scene in the basement, the stakes keep increasing in a way that is very exciting to watch.
I’d never heard of Kaya Scodelario before, but after seeing her here, I want her to get a lot more work moving forward. It’s also a similar performance to Blake Lively in The Shallows, where it’s a work of confined tension and an acting showcase for both actresses. While the father-daughter relationship might not be as fascinating or exciting as the central mayhem, you do ultimately care about these two people and hope they make it out okay. Also, there’s a dog named Sugar, and Sugar remains in the house during all of this, and any time there’s an animal in peril, the stakes are automatically higher. Sugar’s emotional journey might be more interesting than the father-daughter dynamic, honestly.
This is a lean, mean, effective B-movie, but it’s also got some great cinematography and an atmospheric and creepy score that sets the mood efficiently. Alexandre Aja’s frequent cinematographer Maxime Alexandre shoots this, and there’s a lot of camerawork that is more artistic than you may expect from a film like this, and that’s a pleasant surprise.
Paramount Pictures declined to screen Crawl for critics before its opening weekend, and as a result, the film is producing underwhelming box office numbers. Between this and Rocketman, there’s a significant problem going on at the Paramount marketing department. This is excellent summer counterprogramming and should have been sold as such. In a summer full of superhero movies and sequels, it’s nice to see a summer movie do what summer movies used to do so well. Crawl sinks its teeth into the viewer and doesn’t let go until the house lights go up. It’s brisk, well-made, and thrilling. You’ll never want to go to Florida again!