By Tim Jackson
This is a perfect guilty pleasure, an old fashioned B-movie without a franchise, explosions, overly recognizable actors, or exhausting mano a mano violence.
Crawl, screening at AMC and Showcase Cinemas around New England
Crawl is a thrill-a-minute alligator home invasion story from director Alexandre Aja, producer Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), and local screenwriters Shawn and Michael Rasmussen. Aja, whose films High Tension and Piranha 3-D demonstrated his efficiency for horror and gore, directs the film with twice the kicks (and on one tenth of the budget) of the recent scaly monstrosity Godzilla. One principle location and two actors not only cut down on the budget — it also ups the claustrophobia. Criticism that this is implausible schlock filled with waterlogged clichés may be true, but the observation ignores that the movie serves up the satisfactions of a good summer thriller. As a kid, we used to wait endlessly for the monsters in movies to appear. Lucky for us – and unlucky for the inhabitants of this Florida town – the critters in Crawl attack quickly, mercilessly, and often. This is a perfect guilty pleasure, an old fashioned B-movie without a franchise, explosions, overly recognizable actors, or exhausting mano a mano violence.
Haley (Kaya Scodelario) has decided, against the better judgement of the authorities, to head back to her childhood home to find her father (Barry Pepper) before a category 5 hurricane becomes worse. Crawling into their basement’s convoluted spaces, she finds him unconscious. He really shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Now she has to save both of them and their little dog, too. The water is quickly rising as the storm batters the house. Haley, a champion swimmer (of course, her stroke is also the crawl) will soon meet the challenge of her young life — to outpace an 8-foot reptile. Throw reality out the window and let the creepy critters in.
I won’t give away the many ingenious and/or unlikely situations that make up the scraggy plot. What works here is the relentless commitment to gritty action. The town looks a little too stagy. It must have been an awfully wet sound stage (the film was shot in Serbia). The alligators, I assume are a combination of puppets and computer animation — but damn if those things don’t look real. We don’t have many alligators in Massachusetts, and my inner 10-year old thinks these green brutes look just as authentic as the animals in the new Lion King movie. CGI has gotten awfully good. Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Maze Runner) may not be a household name, but she projects the grit of a young woman caught in a grimy subterranean cul-de-sac, cold and bloodied, trying to save herself and her wounded father from scaly marauding creatures. That’s a complicated job description — particularly when the antagonists are often puppets. Seriously, it takes acting chops to make the audience believe this stuff and Scodelario does yeoman’s service. Her being whipped up into athletic hysteria is half the fun. More difficult to believe are the absurd moments of schmaltz that suddenly pop up between father and daughter. Your dad has had his leg cracked in half and it is wedged together with a piece of metal. Would this really be the best time to discuss why he left your mother? Ludicrous as such moments are, they are part of the fun. Does the dog beat his fate as an alligator appetizer? Crawl to Crawl to see.
Tim Jackson was an assistant professor of Digital Film and Video for 20 years. His music career in Boston began in the 1970s and includes some 20 groups, recordings, national and international tours, and contributions to film soundtracks. He studied theater and English as an undergraduate, and has also has worked helter skelter as an actor and member of SAG and AFTRA since the 1980s. He has directed three feature documentaries: Chaos and Order: Making American Theater about the American Repertory Theater; Radical Jesters, which profiles the practices of 11 interventionist artists and agit-prop performance groups; When Things Go Wrong: The Robin Lane Story, and the short film The American Gurner. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. You can read more of his work on his blog.