Friday, July 12, 2019

Gator Raid: CRAWL

Crawl is a tight, smartly constructed creature feature. Running a trim 87 minutes, it gets its premise set up fast, the better to spend most of the time milking every last jolt out of it. In short order, Michael and Shawn Rasmussen's tidy screenplay places a Floridian collegiate swimmer (Kaya Scodelario) and her handyman dad (Barry Pepper) in the crawlspace of the old family home with a hurricane howling towards them and an alligator slithering down the stairs. They’re doubly trapped, water rising and gator stalking. The entire narrative thrust of the film is hoping the pair will make it out alive. There's some attention paid to the father-daughter dynamic and their prickly estrangement, but it takes an obvious background place behind their immediate dangers. That the house rapidly getting swallowed up by the angry waters is on the market as a result of the dad's contentious divorce is a fine character detail dovetailing with the plot, seeing as the characters will have to escape not just the building, but these bad feelings in order to reconcile. Nevertheless, it's almost exclusively about the predicament involving the gator threatening to gobble them up.

The movie is compelling and entertaining, with fine physical distress and desperation played out in close quarters and sweaty closeups. The story is shaped to exploit every best option they have for escape. Given that one’s an expert swimmer and the other has a fully-stocked tool belt, they’re better equipped than most. We watch as they pick a plan, then follow it as far as they can until — WHAM! — that option, too, is closed off. Back to square one. Find the next best way out. Try again. It’s a procedural one-thing-after-another thriller that builds and builds with a fun sense of “ugh, what now!?” around every corner. The gator’s presence is convincing. Its gory chomps (the only reason the movie is R) are considerable — a Best Makeup contender, if you ask me. The harrowing sound design is all eerie splashes and a constant backbeat of howling, pounding winds and rain. And the jump scares and swimming tension are expertly doled out. Director Alexandre Aja, who may never elevate material (give him a junk screenplay like Piranha 3D and you’ll get a junk movie), but who is a perfectly competent realizer of movies, does his best work here. He’s manipulating tension and surprise, often keeping the focus on his actors' wide-eyed expressions of panicked thought, and maintaining visual interest in a contained environment. All involved make the simple premise last just long enough to satisfy. It’s exactly what it promises on the tin. 

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