CRAWL, US, 2019. Starring Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper. Directed by Alexandre Aja. 87 minutes. Rated MA (Strong injury detail).
In the 1970s and 1980s there were lots of animal terror of films as well as disaster films. Crawl is in this vein, reminding audiences of the terrors in those films, monstrous animals, people in peril, even echoes of other films, like the underwater swimming in The Poseidon Adventure.
If filmmakers want to make this kind of story, this is certainly the way to do it. It works. And, it is brief and certainly does not outstay its welcome.
The early part of the film gives audiences plenty of clues to be alert to and then to follow-up. The central character is a young woman, Hayley, played by British actor Kaya Scodelario. She has been trained as a swimmer by her coach father, Barry Pepper, devoting himself to her and her sister, neglecting their mother. We know that this swimming expertise will be important whatever the disaster.
And, there is disaster, a level 5 hurricane in Florida. Hayley’s father is not answering his phone so, despite all warnings, she breaks through a roadblock and drives to find him. Disaster, freely chosen, naturally follows. And, when she arrives at her father’s house, there is plenty of room upstairs but she goes down into a vast crawlspace, accompanied by her father’s dog. He has been injured and, as she revives him, the audience leaps out of its seats, an enormous alligator hurling through a window.
While some refer to this kind of story as a horror story, it is probably more accurately described as a terror story. And, not just one giant alligator, two. While there is some protection in parts of the crawlspace, the menace of the alligators means that father and daughter have to be on the move (plenty of opportunities for swimming) and plenty of giant snapping jaws.
There are some momentary hopes of rescue when a family of looters is seen in the supermarket opposite but, of course… And then some of the Florida troopers arrive searching and…
Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper are convincing as father and daughter, do have some moments of reprieve where they can have genuine family talk and, unlike some other disaster menace films from the past, there is no time for any mushy or soppy romance!
The director, Alexandre Aja has made a number of horror and terror of films and his judgement about how to treat the characters and situations, how to dramatise the alligators and their menace and attacks, seems to be just right for this kind of film.
At the end, to bring people back down to earth and soothe after the terror, the soundtrack plays a rather jaunty version, Bill Haley and the Comet, of See you later, alligator, in a while, Crocodile!
Obviously, not everybody wants to submit themselves to this kind of terror, and imagining what it might be like if we were in such a situation. But, for those who enjoy this kind of film, it fits the bill perfectly.
Paramount Released July 18th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.