Two Cents Gets Mauled by CRAWL

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick:

It makes sense that sharks, crocodiles, and of course alligators continue to be such popular movie monsters. After all, we’re talking about animals that are essentially freaking dinosaurs, machines of hunger and death so perfectly adapted to their function that they have remained largely unchanged across countless years of a changing planet.

So, yeah, not exactly something you’d want to be trapped in an enclosed space with.

But there have been so many killer animal movies that you have to put a little more spin on the ball these days if you want to stand out from the hundred other Jaws riffs.

Alexandre Aja’s Crawl, produced by Sam Raimi, marries the classic killer creature formula with both the disaster film and the enclosed-space thriller, resulting in a romp that’s as claustrophobic as it is gory, and as likely to make you flinch from nature’s devastation as you will a scaly beast jumping out from a dark space.

The bullet-paced Crawl stars Kaya Scodelario as Haley, a college student (and swimmer) who races to her family’s old home in Florida after learning that her estranged father (Barry Pepper) has seemingly disappeared right as a massive hurricane bears down.

Haley quickly discovers her father trapped in a rapidly-filling basement by a group of hungry gators brought in by the storm. Soon trapped herself, Haley and her father desperately work to escape from the crawlspace-like basement before either the water gets too high or the gators get too hungry.

Crawl was a solid performer last summer, if not the grand-slam summer horror hit that Raimi has enjoyed in the past with programmers like Don’t Breathe. Still, the film enjoyed surprisingly strong reviews for what is unapologetically a gory killer animal flick. Maybe there’s hope yet for a part two: Crawl Faster.

Next Week’s Pick

Just in time for Independence Day, the smash hit Broadway musical Hamilton makes its home viewing debut on Disney Plus. If like most folks you haven’t had the opportunity to see the stage production live, there’s never been a better opportunity to catch up with the 2016 winner of 11 Tony Awards.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Austin Wilden:

Alexandre Aja assembles such an efficient thriller in Crawl that it seems effortless at first glance. I knew this movie rocked after my first viewing a year ago in the theater, but a revisit shines a light on how tightly it’s built. Threat escalation from the gators is interwoven with the father/daughter reconnecting arc in perfect parallel that keeps the tension high. The added element of the hurricane and flooding throw in enough instances of old-fashioned bad luck for the characters that makes the moments where they do manage to think their way through a problem all the more engrossing. Even when nature causes those successes to not amount to much, like when Haley manages to get a boat that could get them away from the gator infested waters, only to be knocked right back into the house by an oncoming rush of water.

I am especially fond of the how the final confrontation with a gator is resolved by the same type of event pulling the gator away at the last second, ending on a note of the storm’s impartiality working in Haley’s favor for once. (@WC_Wit)

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

Crawl had one job — deliver what was on the box (Die Hard With a Gator) competently — but on watching (and, particularly, rewatching) the movie, it becomes clear that the filmmakers decided early on that they were gonna deliver the absolute best version of that, plus a few other things, in a dead sprint, while throwing in a side of Disaster Movie and Gnarly Survival Movie along the way. You want a poster child for “succeeds almost perfectly at exactly what it set out to do,” and this is it. To the point where I can’t think of many films like this that do what Crawl does as well as it does.

Alexander Aja mines a much less cruel and unpleasant vein here than he did in his The Hills Have Eyes remake or Piranha 3D, but keeps the playful camera work and gore. Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper crush both the tasking physical ask of the estranged-and-trapped-together father/daughter roles, but give enough quiet heart to the judicious emotional beats for the big payoffs to land like hammers. The film deftly navigates between tense claustrophobic build-ups and effective scares, with some big triumphs whenever one of our heroes makes a daring escape or manages to bring a gator down (there’s a kill with a handgun that’s absolutely delicious). Aja seems to have stepped up his visual storytelling game, conveying information through the focus of a shot or a couple of words after a fateful discover, never feeling like he’s wasting the viewer’s time or underestimating their intelligence. And at a beautifully-structured 88 minutes, the only thing Crawl seems to respect more than your intelligence is your time.

Sometimes you want a horror movie that is a full-course and will leave you with a lot on your mind afterward, but sometimes you just want some junk food. Crawl is impeccable junk food, and even slips in a few veggies on the sly while you’re preoccupied by all the killer alligators. (@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Brendan Foley:

With Aja’s movies in the past, I almost feel like he does ‘too’ good a job. He does such a tremendously effective job at ratcheting up tension and then releasing it in apocalyptic bloodshed that even as I admire the undeniable technical acumen of what he’s accomplished in a given film, I’m never especially eager to revisit them very often.

Crawl, though, is a near-perfect marriage of Aja’s unimpeachable craft with the more playful, showmanlike streak of producer Sam Raimi. Raimi made his bones with epically gruesome horror fare, but with a playful, humorous edge that invited you to laugh at the gruesome excess rather than get nauseous at it.

As such, Crawl is still a mean little movie, like you expect from Aja, but there’s an element of play and fun that maybe wasn’t present in something like his Hills Have Eyes or that Maniac remake he worked on. When limbs get torn or skin gets slashed, you still wince, but there’s also room to cheer and laugh at just how wild things are getting. And because Aja does a remarkably good job of tying the characters’ physical predicament to their emotional journey as father and daughter (this script is a master class in perfect economical storytelling), Crawl ends up feeling nothing less than goddamned triumphant. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

I love all kinds of movies but sometimes you need to watch something when the mood strikes you.

Crawl… is not one of those movies. Nothing makes me press “play” faster than a solid action-horror romp, and Aja delivers on that big-time here with, in my opinion, his most accessible and most accomplished feature. Centering the terrifying situation on an engaging father-daughter relationship provides the story with both weight and relatability beyond the bare requirements for a throwaway creature feature, which this film probably could easily have been.

At face value, “stuck in a crawlspace with a gator” as promised by the trailer might seem a thin premise to hang an entire feature film on, but Crawl keeps things tense and surprising. When it does go beyond the basement, compounding threats face our characters as they try to make their way back to safety while battling flooding and loss of communication in addition to the hungry pack of man-eaters.

I somewhat enjoyed the disaster-action movie Hurricane Heist, but felt like it was missing something. Who knew that something was killer gators? (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick:

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