When it comes to great horror directors we always tend to think of directors like John Carpenter, James Wan or Wes Craven. Is it time though to be starting to think about adding French director Alexandre Aja to that list? As if movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors weren’t impressive enough his brand new film Crawl has some film critics calingl him one of the best next generation genre directors.
Crawl tells a basic but very believable tale. A hurricane is battering the Florida coastline and while most people are leaving the area young collegiate swimmer Haley (Kayla Scodelario) finds herself driving into the danger zone after a panicked phone call from her sister, Beth (Morfydd Clark). While Haley has obviously separated herself from her family Beth is concerned that she hasn’t heard from their father, Dave (Barry Pepper) who is right in the middle of where the hurricane is predicted to make landfall.
Once driving through the dangerous conditions Haley finds herself arrive at her father’s home only to find some baffling circumstances. His truck is in the yard, his dog is inside and so is nearly flat phone, yet he is nowhere to be seen. After looking around for awhile she realises that her father maybe down in the now flooding basement so go downstairs where she finds him injured… and now both trapped by vicious alligators that have also found their way into the basement.
While Crawl may lack some of the horror tropes that fans have come to know and love from films like Saw or even The Conjuring. The horror here comes from suspense of characters being placed in a situation that you could easily imagine happening in real life. Add that to the fact that is very much a creature-feature horror that involves one of the most terrifying and vicious animals that walks upon planet Earth and you end up with a film that is touching on a lot of people’s worst possible nightmare.
The big key to making this work though is the claustrophobic suspense that Alexandre Aja is able to create with the setting of the basement. Even before the introduction of the alligators Aja has the audience jumping as trees crash through windows and then uses the dark, damp basement to his full advantage. Simple things like having Haley have to crawl through the mud on the basement floor while barely being able to move in the confined spaces from time to time certainly adds to the suspense, then things really move into top gear once it is established that both she and her father and sharing the basement with fully grown alligators who are out for a meal. From then on in whenever one of the characters moves in the basement everything is heightened as you are never really sure just how many alligators are coming and going from the basement and where they are hiding.
For all of the great moments of suspense the film does have there are also some glaring errors that at times grates on its audiences. It feels like neither Aja or his screenwriters knew how to really use some of the characters used in the film. Beth is not used after her initial phone calls while the introduction of police officers and petty thieves in the space around the house seems to only occur in order for there to be a little bit of blood and gore as the alligators feed. There is no character development for any of those characters and they are massively under-used in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises though is some of the B-even-C grade CGI that creeps into the film from time to time. The film goes from having some really realistic and menacing alligators that have been dreamed up by the CGI team through to rain effects that look so bad that even the team that created Sharknado would have rejected them. It may seem like a really small criticism but so bad is the effect that at times it takes the audience right out of the realism created during the film.
On the flipside though another thing that the filmmakers go right was the casting. While hardly a big Hollywood name Kaya Scodelario showed with the Maze Runner franchise that she is a star on the rise and she furthers enhances that title here in a role that would have been at times hell to have filmed. Countless days in a water tank plus a fair use of gore effects would have taken a toll on Scodelario and Pepper but together the pair are dynamic on the screen and persevere through the trials of the occupation in order to create truly memorable horror performances.
Crawl is a film that does have its weaknesses but for the most part this is the type of horror film that has you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire cinematic experience, then when you close your eyes that night except a few nightmares about alligators coming to get you.