Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson, Anson Boon, George Somner, Ami Metcalf, Jose Palma, Morfydd Clark, Tina Pribicevic, Annamaria Serda, Savannah Steyn, Jovana Dragas, Colin McFarlane
Written by: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
MPAA Rating: R for bloody creature violence, and brief language
Running Time: 87
Date: 07/11/2019

Crawl (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

To a Gator Extent

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Insidiously simple, compact, and clever, this killer alligator movie, complete with slowly rising floodwaters, is relentless and absolutely terrifying; it's a career best for director Alexandre Aja.

In Crawl, Florida university student Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is just finishing up swim practice when she gets a call from her sister, Beth (Morfydd Clark). A giant hurricane is approaching, and she can't get ahold of their father, Dave (Barry Pepper).

Haley drives toward the storm, and after some searching, finds her father in the lower crawlspace of their old family home. He's injured, and she quickly discovers that there are two hungry alligators loose there. With the flood waters rising, father and daughter must try everything they can to get out of the claustrophobic space. Even if they can make it, though, their troubles are only beginning.

Crawl may have little to say about the world, except perhaps a hint of the danger of the climate crisis, but what it does do, it does exceptionally well. Screenwriter brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (John Carpenter's The Ward) spend just a little time establishing Haley's swimming skills, her tattered relationship with her father, and the scope of the storm before letting go with wallop after wallop; their basic idea of the claustrophobic crawlspace married with the attacking monsters is the stuff of classic thrillers, and the pace of the storytelling is positively brilliant. Gimmicks like a slowly submerging radio and a hand-cranked flashlight add immeasurably.

Aja, whose fun remake of Piranha was a high point in a pretty uneven career so far, ought to stick to movies about water-based predators. His work here is so fluid it's almost elegant. He even manages to avoid dumb jump-scares — the first alligator appearance onscreen is a masterful moment — and uses the compact space with lucid clarity.

He expertly ramps up the tightly coiled tension, revealing one surprise and shock and solution after another, and even the rest breaks are not entirely restful. Those alligators could be lurking anywhere, just below the surface of the rising water. In the end, Crawl feels like a white-knuckle roller coaster ride, and while viewers may leave smiling, they may also feel totally wiped out. (Stick around for a great song over the end credits.)

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