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18 Jul 2019

Gator Greatness: 'Crawl' Is a Scary, Well-Done Tale of Horrors During a Hurricane

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Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario of Crawl. Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario of Crawl.

Alligators get their due as nasty cinematic monsters with Crawl—the biggest surprise so far this summer regarding simply having a damn good time at the movies. It puts Godzilla: King of the Monsters to shame.

Southern Florida is getting walloped by a hurricane, and collegiate swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) hasn’t heard from her dad (Barry Pepper) as the storm grows into a Category 5. Despite foreboding radio warnings, Haley drives to her old family home in an attempt to locate her wayward father and put other family members’ minds at ease.

With the family dog tagging along (of course), Haley ventures into the basement/crawlspace, where dad is unconscious with a suspicious wound. We’re not too far into the movie when the alligator baddies are introduced—and these toothy demons are using the rising waters as an excuse to swim around and party on human flesh. From the first gator to the final frame, Crawl aims to kick your butt with all-out horror thrills—with plenty of hurricane terror mixed in for good measure.

The vast majority of the film takes place in the house, and huge credit goes to director Alexandre Aja and his production team for making the basement a fun place for people to get rolled by an alligator. The alligators, mostly CGI, are terrific beasties—entirely convincing whether above or below water.

Unlike Jaws, Aja doesn’t hide his monsters for most of the movie. Like Jaws, this movie isn’t afraid to show somebody kicking and screaming as they slide into the mouth of a predator, or get thrashed around with their screaming upper half above the water level as the monster savages them beneath. Aja, who also directed the wonderfully disgusting Piranha 3D and the well-done remake of The Hills Have Eyes, does gore well.

This movie has jump scares you don’t see coming. There’s one involving a tree that almost sent me through the movie-theater ceiling. The jump scare seems to be a lost art these days, but Aja and his editors have the timing down to where not a single fright moment feels cheap.

Scodelario (a fun name to type if ever there was one) and Pepper are great together. The moments when they stop in the middle of all the terror to discuss his shortcomings as a dad or her insecurities as an athlete are actually interesting and don’t spoil the action. But make no mistake: They are best while screaming, grunting, crying and freaking when their various limbs are inside the mouths of alligators.

Many great things can be said about the CGI gators—and the same goes for the special effects that created a realistic hurricane with flash-flooding conditions. The stormy skies look very real; Scodelario and Pepper get sufficiently soaked. They are the wettest acting pair since DiCaprio and Winslet in Titanic.

By the time it all ends, Aja and crew have left us spent. At 87 minutes, the length of the movie is perfect—I was exhausted and didn’t want to see anybody else get eaten. I suppose there is room for a sequel, but I’m hoping they leave well enough alone. I’ve hit my terrifying-alligator-movie quotient for this decade.

Oh, and to those who marketed this movie: When you have a movie this good, knock it off with the review embargoes. Word of mouth on this movie didn’t start to spread until the day it came out because critic screenings came late, and embargoes were being enforced. As a result, your opening box office sucked. Have faith that your movie is good!

Crawl is playing at theaters across the valley.

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