The Movie Waffler New Release Review - CRAWL | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - CRAWL

crawl review
A storm traps a father and daughter in the crawlspace beneath their home...but they aren't alone.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alexandre Aja

Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson, Jose Palma

crawl poster


Alfred Hitchcock claimed he was inspired to make Psycho by the popularity of what he considered poorly made b-thrillers, and challenged himself to apply his skill to the sort of movies that he considered the work of hacks. Of course, many of those b-movies Hitchcock looked down on are now viewed as classics, made by smart filmmakers who mined genre diamonds from poverty row coal. It's unlikely that history will be so kind to the likes of Sharknado and its many-headed progeny. Such movies are made in the most cynical manner imaginable, trading on the hipster's love of irony while completely missing the point of why some movies can be so bad they're good.

With Crawl, Alexandre Aja, the French filmmaker behind such energetic horror movies as High Tension, Piranha 3D and The Hills Have Eyes remake, seems to have set himself a similar challenge to Hitchcock. What if a competent genre director made Sharknado, but played it straight? In that infamous SyFy channel original, a tornado plucks sharks out of the sea and brings them inland to cause havoc. In Crawl, a Florida hurricane results in flooding which turns an evacuated neighbourhood into an alligator infested pool.

crawl review


Now this is what summer movies should be all about! Give me a straightforward but well executed man/woman vs nature thriller and bring it in under 90 minutes and I'll emerge into the August sun a satisfied cinemagoer. As someone once said, all you need to make a good movie is a girl and a monster.

The girl in question here is Kaya Scodelario, who a decade ago was working with Andrea Arnold and who now gamely applies herself with equal commitment in her latest collaboration with an alliteratively monikered auteur. She plays Haley Keller, a competitive swimmer who goes looking for her divorced father Dave (Barry Pepper) when a storm warning hits Florida. She tracks him down in the now dilapidated and In Escrow home that once served as the Keller family home. Dave is stuck in the crawlspace beneath the house, unable to move thanks to being chewed on by one of the several alligators that have made their way into the crawlspace through a storm drain.

crawl review


Most of these movies feature a pair of divorced protagonists forced to cooperate, with the inevitable resuscitation of their relationship by the film's resolution. Crawl gives us a more novel dynamic, that of a father and daughter who aren't estranged in any particularly dramatic fashion, but have simply grown apart in that way that so often happens when children go to college and forsake the familial nest. Haley's ambitions of becoming a professional swimmer have been stoked since she was a child by her father, who doubled as her demanding coach. In their current quandary their coach and athlete relationship resumes, as the wounded Dave eggs on Haley with jock-ish slogans of encouragement. Like all fathers, Dave believes his little girl is capable of great things, and his faith in Haley is tested as she battles and evades ravenous gators in an attempt to find a way out of their predicament. As Dave relies on the skills he taught his daughter for his own survival, Aja's film plays upon the idea that parents who push their children in such hard fashion do so not for their children, but to make up for their own failings.

Movies in which young women come up against toothy threats from the natural world have become a summer staple in recent years, with Crawl following on from The Shallows and 47 Metres Down. Aja's film is the most technically adept of the recent crop, as it's made by a filmmaker who really understands how to construct such simple thrills. As soon as the first gator bursts its head through a wooden wall and snaps its jaws within inches of our unsuspecting heroine, we realise the scale of the task ahead of her. Gator fodder arrives in the form of would-be rescuers and looters, and even Haley herself is chewed on a few times (it's here that the movie asks you to suspend your disbelief as to how she can swim and leap around with such injuries) just to let us know Aja means business. There are a couple of moments where Aja plays on our familiarity with this sort of movie, framing shots in a manner that prepares us for scares that don't come, and thus keeping us on our toes throughout.

crawl review


Such (wo)man vs nature movies have a decidedly primal appeal. On a surface level, the idea of seeing a human kill an animal might seem off-putting, but the animal foes of these movies represent something more human. In this post-intellectual world, where a degree of intelligence is no longer any guarantee of a successful or even comfortable existence, seeing these movies' protagonists use their human acumen - the one advantage they have over their more physical animal opponents - to come out on top is now an escapist thrill in a way it wasn't back in the days when Faye Wray and Julia Adams would fall in love with King Kong and the Gillman. When we cheer Haley as she defeats creatures that are the product of millions of years of evolution, perhaps we're really cheering her for demonstrating her superiority over the sort of people who don't believe in evolution.

Crawl is in UK/ROI cinemas August 23rd.



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