I absolutely love aquatic terror and fully believe it’s a subgenre within horror that is greatly underappreciated. However, when summer rolls around, I always get excited in anticipation as to what terror will rise from the sea to prey on innocent beachgoers. I had high hopes when Warner Bros. released The Meg (review here), an adaptation of Steve Alten’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (and a phenomenal book that I highly recommend). However, The Meg greatly disappointed me and I’ve been on the search ever since hoping to fill that void. Then came along CRAWL, a film that has restored my faith that filmmakers are still capable of making quality aquatic horror.
CRAWL is the latest film from director Alexandre Aja (2006’s The Hills Have Eyes), written by the Rasmussen Brothers (The Ward) and produced by Craig Flores (300) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead), starring Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) and Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan). For those not familiar with the synopsis it’s as follows: “When a massive hurricane hits her Florida hometown, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) ignores evacuation orders to search for her missing father (Barry Pepper). Finding him gravely injured in the crawl space of their family home, the two become trapped by quickly encroaching floodwaters. As time runs out to escape the strengthening storm, Haley and her father discover that the rising water level is the least of their fears.” (Paramount)
There are a lot of aspects of this film that I loved, but what really took me by surprise was just how tension-filled this film ended up being. I was quite literally sitting on the edge of my seat the entire duration of the movie because I didn’t know if our main characters were going to survive or not. From the moment Haley enters the crawl space to find her injured father during the hurricane, to the last frame of the film, there was never a moment in which I felt our characters were free from danger. To some, the idea of being filled with stress due to the dire situation our characters face may be too much, but for a horror lover like myself, it was exactly what I needed. The alligators themselves are terrifying enough, but when you add in the dangers of a category five hurricane it just amps up the terror that awaits. Furthermore, the tension steadily builds throughout the film to the point where your heart is beating so rapidly that it catches you off guard. The only part of the movie that really took me out of the film was when we got wide shots of the outdoors so as to see how the hurricane was affecting the landscape. I say this because I felt like the CGI wasn’t as detailed and smooth as that of the alligators. However, I have lived through quite a few hurricanes and though I haven’t ever been in one as intense as what we see in CRAWL, I can say that overall production was rather accurate in the depiction of what a catastrophic hurricane is like.
What was incredibly impressive, however, were the alligators and the visual and special effects used to make them look as life-like as possible. These gators were MASSIVE and ferocious, so much so that next time I’m in Florida I think I’ll actively stay away from any body of water – even if its a puddle because I don’t have time to be eaten by an alligator. Aja also does a great job of bringing the Rasmussen Brothers’ story to life, especially the dynamic that exists between the father and daughter. As someone who once had a strained relationship with her dad, I appreciated the genuine performances between both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper as it reminded me a lot of the struggles my dad and I faced. As with most Aja films, violence abounds and though CRAWL could have been a whole lot gorier, gorehounds will be more than happy with the amount of bloodshed that occurs. That said, I actually found the alligator kill scenes to be quite entertaining which is somewhat shocking for someone like me who isn’t a huge fan of gore. This also goes back to what I was saying earlier in regards to the characters being exposed to harmful injuries. Sure, there are aspects of this movie that are quite fantastical, but for the most part, Aja is able to ground some of that in reality by not allowing any of our characters to leave unscathed.
In regards to the acting, I think the cast was top-notched, especially considering the majority of the movie takes place in water, which can’t be easy to do. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to film in all that wetness, leading me to believe that the moments in which Kaya and Barry are seen shivering are accurate depictions of being that cold. Not to sideline Barry’s performance, but Kaya definitely stole the show as the survival of her father, and subsequently, her life, was in her hands. I know all the fragile men are about to roll their eyes at this but it’s so refreshing to continuously see a strong female character conquering the shit out of a horrific situation and having to help their male counterpart instead of vice versa. Speaking of survival, CRAWL is definitely a home invasion thriller, but instead of a killer stalking its victim in their house, this is giant alligators stalking their prey trapped in a crawl space. With the horror genre inundated with home invasion type flicks, this was definitely an enjoyable deviation from the norm. Additionally, the crawlspace lends itself to a feeling of intense claustrophobia which only elevates that feeling of anxiety and panic.
In all, CRAWL is one of the most enjoyable and tension-filled films I’ve seen this year. I absolutely loved watching it with an audience as we all were quick to react to the jumpscares as well the over-the-top violence. But it’s not just all horror and gore as there are a few humorous moments, one, in particular, that deals with a theft of an ATM machine which is right in line with the “Florida Man” new stories that came out of Sunshine State recently. We all need that one summer movie that terrifies us to the point of never wanting to go back into the water and up till now, CRAWL is 100% that movie. It’s a fun and terror-filled romp through the murky waters of Florida that is guaranteed to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in anticipation of the inevitable terror ahead. I absolutely cannot wait to see it again. CRAWL arrives in theaters July 12, 2019.