Crawl is a masterpiece of the pulp imagination.
Kaya Scodelario plays Haley Keller, a swimmer at the University of Florida who has a loving but troubled relationship with her father, Dave (Barry Pepper). With a Category 5 hurricane on a collision course with the state of Florida, everyone has been ordered to evacuate the area. However, Haley is concerned that her father may not have gotten the message or, being the stubborn type that he is, he may have gotten the message and just decided to ignore it. (I could totally relate to Haley’s frustration. When Dallas got hit by tornadoes last month, my Dad not only refused to hide in his laundry room but he also called me up to inform me that he was sitting out on his back patio watching for any twisters.) With the storm raging all around her, Haley searches for her father. When she finally finds him, he’s in the crawlspace of their vacation home. He’s unconscious. He’s wounded. And he’s surrounded by alligators! It’s now up to Haley to save the lives of not only her father but also the family dog. And, of course, she has to do all of this without getting eaten by an alligator herself. Even worse, even if they do manage to outswim the alligators, Haley and Dave are still going to have to deal with the ever intensifying storm that is raging outside.
Crawl is an intense and exciting film, one that clocks in at a brisk 87 minutes and which has a lot more going on underneath the surface than might be readily apparent. Yes, this is a film about two people and a dog who are trapped in a flooded crawlspace by a bunch of hungry alligators. And yes, I’m sure that some people will be totally boring and predictable and make a big deal about the film’s environmental subtext. (“How many more innocent people have to be eaten by alligators before we pass the Green New Deal!?”) But, at its heart, this is a film about relationships. Dave has always been hard on Haley. Haley has always both loved and resented her father. The flooding and subsequent alligator attacks may justify the pressure that Dave put on Haley to become the best but, even more importantly, it allows Haley to show that she actually is the best and that she doesn’t always need Dave to tell her what to do. With Dave spending the majority of the film incapacitated in one way or the other, it’s often up to Haley to keep them both from getting eaten as they try to move from one flooded location to another. It’s up to Haley to keep fighting and fight she does. Haley never gives up and never surrenders and, for me, Crawl is a thousand times more empowering than Captain Marvel or any of the other more obviously heavy-handed “girl power” films that have come out this year.
As directed by Alexandra Aja, there’s not a single wasted moment to be found in Crawl. He plunges straight into the story and the film is pretty much an unrelenting thrill ride from beginning to end. Even more importantly, Aja is smart enough to trust his audience to be able to read between the lines of this genre film without necessarily beating the audience over the head with its message. This is a film that can be appreciated as both a thriller and a heartfelt look at a difficult but loving relationship. This is a grindhouse film with a heart, featuring a strong and committed performance from Kaya Scodelario. As Haley is, again and again, forced to prove her strength, she becomes a stand-in for all of us. Crawl is genre filmmaking at its best, along with being one of the most impressive films of 2019.