I’m always worried about horror movies that revolve around animals: partly because I grew up watching a lot of nature documentaries and partly because I’m concerned they will all continue the never-ending trend of emulating Jaws. As a child, I was basically spoon-fed Spielberg movies until I was a teenager, primarily Jurassic Park and E.T, and my passion for his films at the time was second only to my passion for Steve Irwin and his adventures as the Crocodile Hunter. So when I stepped into the theater to see “Crawl,” I tried to put aside my personal biases as much as possible and just focus on the quality of the film. My expectations were low and I figured if I got to see a few interesting kills alongside characters working together to solve the problem of killer alligators in creative ways, I’d be happy.
Unfortunately, Crawl does very little to establish itself beyond the premises of its own gimmick, with the opening 15 minutes being some of the slowest I’ve ever had to sit through in a horror movie. The film starts with our main character, Haley, in swimming practice, pretty much beating the audience over the head with an immediate sense of “This will be important later on, pay attention you morons!” Once the all-important practice is over, Haley gets a call from her sister detailing the fact that her dad isn’t responding to her messages and that a Category 5 hurricane is about to hit their hometown. This sets the stage for the rest of the movie, as Haley ignores the warnings of multiple people and drives into the hurricane to find her father and bring him to safety.
Once she arrives at her childhood home, however, she discovers that the crawlspace under the house is infested with alligators, and that she and her father have become trapped under the floorboards, with the carnivorous reptiles blocking their only escape route. While the trailers may have led you to believe that the entire house is flooded from the get-go, 90% of the movie actually takes place in this very limited area underneath the house. The idea of being trapped in this highly claustrophobic space with alligators is fairly engaging at first, but the novelty wears off after the first 20 or so minutes, and I soon felt myself wanting the movie to either end or move on to a new location.
I think one of my main issues with the movie is the fact that alligators are not a great choice when it comes to horror movie animals. Alligators don’t move much when attacking land-based prey, usually just opting to stay in the water and eat fish instead. They don’t really chase things all over the place on land either, and they honestly look more goofy than intimidating outside their natural habitat (as they are in most of this movie). However, when they do bite something in real life, it’s pretty much always fatal, or at the very least, ends with a limb or two being ripped off. Alligators have some of the strongest bites of any animal in the entire world, so after the first time I watched a character get bitten and then fight their way out of the monsters’ jaws, it was very difficult for me to take the rest of the movie with any degree of sincerity.
I suppose one credit to Crawl is that the characters are basically in constant danger and do get attacked by the animals, both frequently and violently. However, there’s essentially no tension in any of these scenes beyond the first time they establish that a college girl and a middle-aged man can rip themselves from the jaws of one of the strongest predators in the world simply by punching the top of its head over and over again. Apparently, the alligators in Crawl have also completely forgotten how to perform the classic crocodilian “death roll” technique until the last 10 minutes of the film. Instead, they simply grab a main character in their jaws and flail them back and forth like they’re tenderizing a steak, smacking our protagonists against pipes and wooden support beams in a way that’s highly amusing but also extremely ineffective and inaccurate to the way these animals actually hunt.
It doesn’t help that the movie tries to take itself so seriously with such goofy, exaggerated action, and I found it extremely difficult to care at all about these characters and their unbelievably generic cookie-cutter backstories. A girl that literally “just wants to be the best on her swim team” and a divorced drunk dad still clinging to the past; not the most original material to work with when trying to tell an emotional, compelling story about killer alligators. And it’s only made worse when the alligator action is constantly being broken up by awkward, ham-fisted attempts of sincerity and heartfelt dialogue about “never being around” and “you’re the best swimmer, you just need to believe in yourself more.” It adds this extra layer of cheapness and uneasiness that this film was produced by a board of corporate entities looking to check boxes for “popular film ingredients,” rather than an actual filmmaker with a vision for a concise beginning, middle, and end to his or her movie.
If I can offer any positives, it’s that the alligator attack sequences are fairly fun to watch, despite how stupid they are. Watching characters getting torn limb from limb by giant aquatic reptiles is definitely a major selling point for a lot of people, and the movie at least put effort into cramming as many alligators as possible into every single inch of the scenery. The film’s score is also surprisingly good and not something I’ve seen discussed much by other moviegoers. It’s filled with these heavy, dread-filled, crawling cello strings (no pun intended) that constantly remind the audience that the water is rising, and storm outside is only getting worse. When compared to most other generic modern horror movie scores, Crawl actually manages to have somewhat of a unique sound, and that’s highly commendable in a movie that needs all the help it can get.
All in all, the concept behind Crawl is a neat idea but was executed so poorly that it felt like a movie dreamt up by first-year film students after an afternoon of getting high, rather than something produced to tell a genuine story. It’s about 10 minutes of solid entertainment threaded through about 80 minutes of boring dialogue and dull, mind-numbing alligator attack sequences with no real consequences on the main cast. It’s a movie that doesn’t know how or when to end, so it just keeps going until it quite literally runs out of room and fizzles out, showing just how little thought was put into pushing this film beyond its initial concept.
3/10 – Bad