Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Review: Crawl

Cert: 15 / 87 mins / Dir. Alexandre Aja / Trailer

Okay, let's keep this brief. Crawl isn't very good. There. I said it. And it's not 'just fun' because movies aren't fun when you're wishing all the characters could just die sooner so that it would be over. And technically it could be over at any point you choose, of course, but we'll come to that widely-taken option later. In the meanwhile…

We open in Florida USA with Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a university student and competition-swimmer. After a phone conversation with her sister, Haley decides to attempt to contact her semi-estranged father and swimming coach Dave (Barry Pepper - he's not a real pepper) as a hurricane is moving in and neither have heard from him in some time. Arriving at Dave's house (after evading two Highway Patrol Officers, for whom she is solely and directly responsible for the later deaths of) she finds his dog, Sugar, but no other signs of life. Eventually Haley traces her errant father to their old family home, now borderline derelict after a family split years earlier.

Dave is in the cellar, trapped and injured, as floodwaters have attracted the residents of a nearby alligator-farm, and they're suddenly quite protective of their new gaff. But the rain pours heavily outside and time is running out for Haley and Dave to escape. Will award-winning swimmer Haley be up to the challenge of out-manoeuvring a predator that's had millions of years to evolve its talent? And also the dog is up in the living room! Oh no, the dog! Hashtag danger!


First things first, you know for a fact that this movie won't kill the dog. Because if it was the kind of movie that would kill the dog, then it would have killed the dog in the first fifteen minutes just to establish that no-one was safe. And I don't want the dog to die, but it's an indicator of exactly what the movie is. And of course Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper (he's not a real pepper, remember) aren't going to die early on since they're the only cast members contracted to have more than three lines of dialogue before getting eaten by a CGI alligator - there's basically no movie without them. So what we're left with is a desaturated colour palette, jump-scares and shrieking in a manky old cellar. This is basically a Conjuring movie with 'gators instead of ghouls. Which perhaps explains why I lost patience with it so quickly.

The first act is so packed to the rafters with hackneyed backstory and exposition (all sports-coach parents are inherently terrible and should be left for whatever's crawling around in the basement) that it's no surprise the only way to go was down once the rains kicked in. There's a vague suggestion later that the whole thing could be a clumsy metaphor for generational angst and self-reflection on failure, as if Crawl has the cojones to think it could be placed on the same shelf as The Shallows. If only it had that much to say. You'd think that after Pirates Of The Caribbean 5, Scodelario would have approached a film where she spends a considerable percentage submerged in water with a little more caution. Kaya is a capable and promising performer, but even she can't save this dull scream-fest.


As the flood-level rises, so does the detail-free murkiness*1, and every 'oh no I'm back in the water!!' is more tedious than the last. There's something quite retrograde about watching half-arsed characters splashing around an enclosed area, fleeing from animated creatures like there's supposed to be some layer of irony which got forgotten in post-production. The film was never going to be a layered masterpiece, but it certainly shouldn't have been this boring - that most unforgivable of cinematic sins. Although this was made worse by the fact that I also started becoming angry at how bored I was getting*2.

There's a scattering of quite nasty effects shots if that's your thing, but with a cast this small they have to be used sparingly if the film is going to last its gruelling 87 minutes. Why does Crawl exist? What purpose does it serve in 2019? This cost actual money to make, right? What does this bring to the schedules right now and what will it leave for its genre in the years to come, other than an also-ran shelf warmer? Who is supposed to enjoy a film that's been punched out of a template so well-worn that all of its edges are smoothed away? Who is this for that doesn't already buy their new movies from the £3 shelf in Asda? How is Crawl advancing anything? And if it's not, isn't that a slap in the face to all the filmmakers with imaginative, intelligent projects they can't get made because this shite is clogging up the screens?

The only thing missing from this turgid, self-indulgent mess is a good ol'fashioned Stars'n'Stripes waving defiantly from the roof of the house as the rescue helicopter finally wobbles into view. Because obviously they all fucking survive. It's that sort of movie*3.

Sample dialogue: "We are going to beat those pea-brained lizard shits."
Well, quite…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It's like all the worst aspects of Into The Storm, 47 Metres Down, Don't Breathe in one easy-to-loathe waste of an hour and a half.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
You may as well watch it in a cinema if at all, because a film this dark and murky will be impossible to see in your living room unless you've got blackout-curtains...

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Absolutely not.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper are in this (and he's not a real pepper, remember), and they were in those Maze Runner movies with Thomas 'Petty Officer Thanisson' Brodie-Sangster.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
I do not award this score lightly, I assure you.

*1 She is literally scrabbling around in excrement at one point. I ask you. [ BACK ]

*2 Now not for nothing, Crawl was a secret-screening. By which I mean that none of the audience knew what the movie would be until the BBFC card came up after the trailers. And it was a busy screen tonight (in fact, where the fuck were these cowards when Beats was playing?). So. As the title was revealed to the audience, a handful of people stood up and left. No doubt they'd seen the trailer and knew this wouldn't be for them. The ticket price was covered by their Unlimited cards, so no harm done other than a wasted journey out of the house. Over the course of the next twenty minutes or so, more people left when it became apparent what the film was going to be, and they then knew this wouldn't be for them. Then over the course of the next twenty-five minutes or so, more people left when it became apparent that the movie wasn't suddenly 'going to get good'. Although because of a shameful mass-reaction to another recent mystery screening, I now make a point of counting how many walk-outs there are. Forty people walked out of Crawl. Forty. Four-Zero. And that was just in my screen, I know my local had put on an extra showing, too. And the longer the gap between the BBFC card and that dissatisfied trudge to the front, the more damning an indictment each one was. Fuck it, I only stayed out of morbid curiosity and because I wouldn't be able to write about the movie if I didn't pay it the courtesy of watching the whole thing. [ BACK ]

*3 So as Haley drives to her dad's place, there's a conspicuously signposted Alligator Farm™ (Because Florida) on the opposite side of the road. Fair enough, plot-point, foreshadowing, I get that. But later on (after realising there's more than one creature down there with her), Haley goes to the far end of the basement and discovers a clutch of alligator eggs, some of which have hatched. By this point, it's been raining less than six hours. So are we to believe that in that time, the 'gators have a) escaped the farm, b) set up shop in Barry Pepper's cosy cellar-bar (and he's not a real pepper, remember), c) laid some eggs and d) hatched some eggs? Because some people reckon those take around 65 days to incubate rather than… say… six hours. I get that there could just be alligators in the basement anyway Because Florida, in which case why leave the implication that the flooding will cause them to get out of the Alligator Farm™? If they're everywhere you look, then what was the point of that? Anyway, this movie was directed by the helmsman of Piranha 3D and written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, whose IMDB credits feel entirely in-keeping with all of this. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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