In Crawl, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) returns to her south Florida childhood home in search of her father, Dave (Barry Pepper), who isn’t answering his phone in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane warning. Haley’s a swimmer; her father, from whom she’s now estranged, was her coach growing up. Haley has never been quite good enough, although Dave has always believed in her. She locates him in the crawlspace beneath their house, where he has a large bite out of his shoulder and a fractured leg. Turns out the rising hurricane waters have left their old crawlspace infested with seven-foot-long alligators. The waters are still rising, and Haley and Dave find themselves trapped in the crawl with few options and even less time.
Crawl is without a doubt the most efficiently thrilling movie of the summer, devoid of franchise concerns, soulless regurgitation or pretentious attempts at horror. It’s been one of the worst summers in recent memory, which maybe makes Crawl’s greatness even more pronounced. But it has a simple premise, clear-cut characters and a svelte 87-minute running time that keeps the movie moving. Simplicity is the name of the game with Crawl, an appreciable feat. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum and Avengers: Endgame may be the only other commendable movies this summer, but all three share complex stories built off year-long narratives. All you need with Crawl is the willingness to care for about an hour-and-a-half … and maybe a fear of reptiles.
Director Alexandre Aja has made a number of horror flicks over the years but never quite reached the heights of his career-making High Tension. Crawl won’t reach that level of cult following, but it still captures some of the deeply dark, humorous violence seen in Aja’s breakout film. Side characters are introduced into Haley and Dave’s story with the explicit purpose of ending up gator gnosh, which Aja plays to gory comic perfection. There were children in my audience — which may be a poor choice, but nothing here is much more graphic than The Walking Dead gets away with on cable. Jaws is more intimately disgusting. Take your kids if you want. You know them better than I do.
Scodelario and Pepper have an amicable chemistry as a father and daughter who are a little too alike in their stubbornness but thankfully cut from the same cloth of reliance. Pepper’s the kind of actor who appears as a bit player in bigger movies, so it’s kind of nice to see him get a meaty role here even if it’s one where he is progressively injured in horrible ways. Scodelario, too, take her share of alligator bites; this isn’t a movie where the heroes get out unscathed, if they escape at all.
Most important is the fact that Crawl is simply an enjoyable piece of genre fiction that never loses its bite. It’s lean, mean and actually tense. The jump scares don’t feel cheap or repetitive because every interaction with the alligators has a real cost to the heroes’ goal of escaping the crawlspace and then the hurricane. The humor works, the characters are worth caring about and the aesthetic of the crawl grimy, wet and believable. As a man who hates going into his own crawlspace under his house hundreds of miles from any reptile as large as an alligator, this hit close to home. It had my number. Give it a shot.