Recent years have given us plenty of shark movies, with The Meg, The Shallows, and 47 Meters Down among the best of them (and most of the worst involving a tornado or two). Now director Alexandre Aja wants to convince you that it’s time for another aquatic creature to take the spotlight. His latest feature, Crawl, contends that you don’t even have to leave your house to get brutally attacked by a giant alligator.
An opening scene featuring a swimming competition introduces us to Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and establishes her natural gift for aquatic activities, as well as her dad’s (Barry Pepper) tendency to coach her with weirdly specific pep talks. According to her father, Haley is an “apex predator.” But unfortunately for her, the film’s title is not “Swim,” and she quickly comes face-to-face with an actual apex predator. The results are exactly what you want from this movie: gnarly, thrilling, alligator-munching horror.
Turns out, a massive hurricane is about to hit Haley’s hometown in Florida. Neither she nor her sister has heard from their now-estranged father, so Haley sets out to look for him at her childhood lakehouse. Of course, she gets trapped in the house–oh, and she’s greeted by two huge alligators that have taken up residence in the flooded basement.
Alexandre Aja’s experience directing Piranha 3D and High Tension comes fully into play in Crawl. His nearly unmatched proclivity for brutal violence and gnarly visuals, mixed with producer Sam Raimi’s eye for combining horror with light-hearted fun, make for the perfect summertime aquatic creature feature. Crawl is both highly entertaining and also pretty nasty. Though the scares get a bit predictable at times, Aja manages to find inventive and new ways to use the alligators’ mighty and raw power for maximum adrenaline-pumping and blood-splattering thrills. These guys don’t just bite and then hide–they maim, twist, and even decapitate.
As you can expect, most of the movie takes place in the basement, as the alligators prevent Haley from getting her wounded dad up the stairs, and the floodwaters keep pouring in. Crawl uses this to its advantage, making for a claustrophobic experience filled with tension and jolts. Aja makes great use of the space and gives audiences a good sense of where everything is located in the basement, so you know where the characters are in relation to the alligators and the staircase that leads to safety. He also gets as much mileage out of the location as possible, as the hurricane brings more water into the house, and with it more alligators and a few other surprises that are too fun to spoil here.
Of course, the alligators can’t be the only stars, and fortunately, Crawl found the right humans to face off against them. Barry Pepper is out of commission for much of the film, but he does the best with what he gets, as the movie gives him a character arc and some dramatic dialogue in between gruesome scenes like when he tries to fix his own open fracture with a wrench. Pepper and Scodelario have great chemistry together and have some nice emotional moments, but it’s Scodelario who gets most of the screen time, and she absolutely runs with it. Not only does she nail the horror aspects of the movie–and there are plenty–but she gets to be a badass and sell the movie’s underlying theme of resilience in the face of hopelessness.
Being the outrageous and over-the-top creature feature that it is, Crawl will ask you to suspend your disbelief significantly. The movie throws a ridiculous amount of bad luck at the characters–everything that can possibly go wrong, does, and you just have to accept it if you’re going to have a good time. The gators also suffer from less-than-stellar CGI. It isn’t a dealbreaker, but it can be distracting at times.
There are also some instances of characters doing very, very stupid things. I’m talking The Good Place’s Jason Mendoza levels of “Florida Man” idiocy. After the third time you get bitten by a gator, you’d probably stop reaching out with your arms and legs long enough for a gator to grab them yet again. But not these characters! Crawl balances right on the border between genius and plain absurdity, and what side you fall on will depend on your ability to go along for the ride.
Crawl’s brisk runtime of just under 90 minutes helps make it the perfect antidote for this summer of overly long movies, as Alexandre Aja delivers a throwback to the heyday of aquatic horror movies that can do for lakehouses in Florida what Jaws did for beaches. Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.