At a time when most mainstream genre films or TV shows are moving in the complete wrong direction by being overly complicated, artificially extended, or abusively referential - but lacking the means of their proclaimed intelligence - it is very pleasant to receive a booster shot of what genre films used to be: short, effective and memorable.
With its 97 minutes length, crystal clear pitch, absence of sub-plot/parasitic story arc or cumbersome secondary characters, Crawl arrives at the perfect time and its simplicity and modesty are most refreshing. The plot is disarmingly clear: Haley (Kaya Scodelario, Skins) is a professional swimmer. She, and her estranged father Dave (Barry Pepper, 25th Hour) are trapped in their family home during a hurricane, confronted by voracious alligators.
After a series of good, yet unmemorable films (Horns, The 9th Life of Louis Drax) and a significant amount of frustration linked to his evanescent adaptation of Space Adventure Cobra, Alexandre Aja seemed to have lost his way. Especially when looking back at the beginning of his career which seemingly started with a bang in France with the ambitious, yet little seen, Furia, the much acclaimed excellent High Tension, and one of the best remakes of the last fifteen years, The Hills Have Eyes. But with Crawl, Aja is making a noticeable comeback with a film which has been marketed from the beginning as a pure exploitation film while updating the formerly well-provided animal attack sub-genre.
While Crawl’s stubbornness to never deviate from its premise will most likely be its principal source of criticism, it definitely constitutes the film’s strength and what will most likely ensure it a bright future as a cult classic. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else, do too much and remains just as effective as the door growths markers showing the level of water rising in the house.
The script, written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (writers of John Carpenter’s last feature film to date, The Ward) doesn’t even pretend to impart a semblance of existence to the other characters that the main two protagonists will cross, other than being juicy bait. What Aja wants is to stick close to Haley and Dave as they fight against some of Nature’s most terrifying elements. Do not expect any misappropriation of the genre, Aja knows his classics and he demonstrates it with impressive know-how.
You can also feel that Aja and the other producers (which include his faithful writing/producing partner Grégory Levasseur and the all-too rare Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead)) have carefully prepared Crawl, making the director appear in full control of his technical abilities. Displaying fluid yet complex crane shots, impressive digital inlays of both the hurricane elements and the alligators in formidably tangible submerged environments, the director makes the most of the watery maze and manages to perfectly balance aquatic chases and extremely brutal knockdown blows. The alligators are scarily credible, and Aja succeeds in filming them divinely from every angle; whether their attacks are purposely surreal or rely upon their formidable hunting techniques. These creatures are destined to make both a strikingly efficient yet lasting impression on an audience.
Finally, what also forces respect for the director is that he knows he’s not Steven Spielberg but, like Greg McLean before him with his much underrated Rogue, he knows how to balance the magical formula of the invisible monster with biting efficiency and chooses to show his creatures in full light displaying, for the joy of the camera and the spectators, their fascinating power.
Crawl will therefore be more appreciated as a celebration of a mainstream form of cinema. It's a genre lately lost in a storm of political correctness. This movie is a generously sincere, entertaining and highly memorable exploitation film. Which is often a lot to ask for nowadays.
Crawl is released in the UK on August 23