posterA young woman, while attempting to save her father during a Category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against alligators.

I LOVED CRAWL. Loved it. This new little pressure cooker of a movie states its intentions clearly and efficiently succeeds in what it sets out to do. Pitting two stranded people in a flooding house against ravenous alligators, is such a straightforward, yet absurd concept. In the skilled hands of director Alexander Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D) Producer Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell) and writers Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen, the gator movie becomes a clever, glee-filled gore fest that had this reviewer cackling with joy.

Packing as much exposition into the first 10 minutes as possible, we meet Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a competitive swimmer as she practices to qualify for team while reminiscing about the days when her father Dave (Barry Pepper) coached her as a child.  Frumpy sister Beth (Morfydd Clark) calls Haley concerned about their father’s safety as a huge category 5 hurricane sets its course toward the old family home in the everglades. Haley decides to drive two hours south from where she is at school to go check on pops who is not answering his phone. After snaking past police road blocks and increasing danger, Haley finds her dad trapped in the crawlspace under his two-story home in the swamps. She also finds what is keeping him trapped there.

Two 15 foot alligators corner the two under the house as the floodwaters rise. Meanwhile the family dog barks and yelps upstairs as possible food for the hungry reptiles. Did we mention the danger that the levies might break, flooding the area? With higher and higher stakes, increasing danger, and relentless creativity, CRAWL sadistically stretches every ounce of suspense from each square inch of the silver screen.

The film is not without a few very minor false notes. For instance, it almost feels schmaltzy at one point in the film as Dave and Haley reconcile and make sense of their broken family while gators circle them and floodwaters rise. Too, even though we know Haley’s experience as a swimmer, I found it hard to believe how long she could hold her breath at times. At that point, however, you have to have been totally fine with alligators swimming in a living room, a bathroom, the kitchen, etc. If that is the thing you get snagged on, well, you are missing the point. The Rasmussen’s along with a script that was massaged by two masters of horror and suspense know what we came to see. People we are invested in, stuck in a dire situation.

Producer Raimi’s touch is heavy in the best ways in that we are given a single location creatively used and a diabolically bad situation. With director Aja, we get those shocking, indulgent moments of painfully graphic violence. While this is, for all intents and purposes a horror movie, it plays like an action suspense picture. The stakes are high but never bleak. There are also some remarkably dark and funny scenes, like when a group of looters attempt to ransack a local gas station. Ah, Darwin’s theories at work.

As far as production goes, everything is kept about as lean and effective as the script. Serbia stands in nicely for the Florida Everglades, and the storm along with the gator effects, give sound effects editor Jamey Scott and sound mixer Novica Jankov an aural work out. The balance of the hisses and snarls of the gators against the racing winds and storms is impeccable. Then there are the effects, all of which are fully believable. There is an army of people behind making these CGI gators look right at home in a flooded roadway, or a rundown living room.

In short CRAWL has bite. For the most part everyone involved makes creative decisions that work, creating a white-knuckle thrill ride of a creature feature. Alexander Aja is in top form, having tremendous fun orchestrating total havoc while lacing the film with a nasty sense of humor. Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen have a script that shaved off the excess material and stuck to the basics to great effect. Raimi’s guiding touch delivers a fierce thriller on a relatively modest budget that should see respectable returns. Our advice? Check for hurricanes, and swim out to your local theatre to see CRAWL. It’s going to be the most fun you have while balled up in the theater all summer.

Watch our interview with producers Craig Flores and Sam Raimi here.

CRAWL
RATING: R

GHOST LIGHT TRAILER from John Stimpson on Vimeo.

Runtime: 1 hr. 27 mins
Directed By:
Written By: