Crawl review – brutal alligator horror is a snappy summer surprise

Piranha 3D director Alexandre Aja returns to the water for a lean, suspenseful tale of a father and daughter trapped in a flooding, predator-filled house

Withholding a film from the press until the very day that it opens is usually the surest sign said film is a catastrophe. (The recent example of Luc Besson’s misfiring assassin thriller Anna proves this point quite perfectly.) So when Paramount decided not to screen the Sam Raimi-produced horror Crawl, assumptions inevitably slithered through the critical community, another underwhelming summer stinker predicted. It is, then, with genuine surprise and relieved pleasure that I can say Crawl is far from the mess one might assume. And while it’s also far from perfect, it’s a great deal more successful than many of the season’s more hyped offerings.

Recalling little-seen 2010 horror Burning Bright, which saw a young woman stuck in a house with a tiger while a hurricane edges closer, Crawl sees a young woman stuck in house with an alligator while a hurricane edges closer – an astonishingly similar premise yet one played out with a great deal more skill. Part of that is because, well, alligators tend to evoke a great deal more fear than tigers, lurking and lacerating in ways we might associate with fictional monsters rather than, say, domestic cats, and director Alexandre Aja knows exactly how to rinse the most out of his scaly antagonists. They’re pitted against Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a swimmer driving her way into a disaster zone to track down her father (Barry Pepper). As a hurricane threatens to rage, she finds him injured in the crawlspace underneath their old family home. He’s been attacked by an alligator, and now the pair are forced into a battle to leave in one piece, rather than lots of little ones.

After Aja broke out with his ferocious 2003 slasher High Tension, a film that kicked off a string of hardcore French horrors, he’s had a patchy time in Hollywood. His remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha were mostly effective, but Mirrors and Horns less so, and good luck finding anyone who’s even heard of his last film, the barely released Canadian thriller The 9th Life of Louis Drax. While Crawl is hardly a rousing, career-saving return to form, it’s a solid, crowd-pleasing reminder that he knows his genre, an 87-minute exercise in pushing and then securing audience members to the very edge of their seats. The lean running time means he’s quite often successful, and there’s an awareness of just how much mileage he can wring from the film’s high-concept premise.

The script, from brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, continues to find novel ways to extend the tension through to the relentless final act and right up to the frantic finale. The father-daughter duo are well and truly put through the wringer: bitten, bloodied and broken at every step (the film’s bone violence is particularly, horribly efficient) and Aja choreographs the mayhem with a precise eye and a canny grasp of sound design. The majority of the chaos unfolds in the confines of a dank crawlspace but unlike so many horror films, the murkiness of the setting doesn’t prevent us from following the action and Aja is keen to show off his vicious predators in all their leathery splendour.

Crawl: direct, nasty, entirely unpretentious.
Crawl: direct, nasty, entirely unpretentious. Photograph: Sergej Radović/AP

The film only crumbles when we’re forced into family soap as – you guessed it – the estranged pair reminisce over the past while trying to rebuild for the future. As soon as Pepper utters the soul-crushing line “You remember when you were little”, you’d be wise to take a bathroom break as the film is far more skilled at making you jump than it is at making you care. Scodelario, a British actor who broke out in Skins but has struggled ever since, is similarly one-sided, selling us on her ability as a physical performer without ever truly convincing us of her competence as an emotional actor.

But Crawl mostly chomps off exactly the right amount to chew. It’s a direct, nasty, entirely unpretentious B-movie and while this remains faint, faint, faint praise given the state of the genre, it’s one of the year’s sturdiest horror films. I wouldn’t exactly urge you to run rather then crawl to see it, but a brisk walk should do.

  • Crawl is out now in the US and in the UK on 23 August


Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Hunt review – gory Trump-baiting satire is more hype than horror
The delayed liberal elites vs rural ‘deplorables’ thriller isn’t quite the political hot potato it’s being sold as, offering boilerplate B-movie schlock instead

Adrian Horton

11, Mar, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
Underwater review – Kristen Stewart's soggy, silly monster movie
A much-delayed attempt to resurrect the Alien formula underwater has some effective moments but fails to justify its own existence

Benjamin Lee

08, Jan, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Ma review – Octavia Spencer kills it in creepy exploitation thriller
The Oscar winner devours her role as a lonely woman preying on a group of teenagers in a patchy yet mostly entertaining cross between Carrie and Misery

Benjamin Lee

29, May, 2019 @4:00 PM

Article image
Bird Box review – Sandra Bullock's Netflix thriller is a bird-brained mess
Despite some tense moments, this apocalyptic shocker is a disappointingly clunky waste of a star-studded cast

Amy Nicholson

14, Nov, 2018 @8:02 PM

Article image
The Curse of La Llorona review – supernatural sleepover fodder
This unscary, 70s-set horror about a child-killing ghost is a formulaic genre dirge

Benjamin Lee

03, May, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Invisible Man review – Elisabeth Moss brings murky thriller to life
A reliably committed lead performance ignites a mostly enjoyable, often timely, take on the HG Wells story that falls apart in the final act

Benjamin Lee

25, Feb, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Anna review – Luc Besson's empty assassin thriller shoots blanks
A vacuous performance from model Sasha Luss sinks the director’s attempt to add a modern spin on his 1990 thriller La Femme Nikita

Benjamin Lee

21, Jun, 2019 @7:21 PM

Article image
Bloodshot review – Vin Diesel brings brawn in brainless action schlock
An ambitious franchise-starter offers only the smallest of pleasures, mainly thanks to the star himself, while mostly descending into cliche

Charles Bramesco

11, Mar, 2020 @4:00 PM

Article image
Daniel Isn’t Real review – ludicrous pretend-friend horror
Hellish special effects overwhelm the story of a college student and his imaginary buddy, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger

Cath Clarke

05, Feb, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
The Prodigy review – unscary demon-kid horror story
With tiresome jump scares, bad acting and untied plot strands, this tale of a disturbed child genius is a cliche-ridden stinker

Peter Bradshaw

14, Mar, 2019 @1:00 PM