Movie Review: 'Crawl' Hauls In Captivating Creature Feature

Crawl Kaya Scodelario Haley Keller
As a huge fan of creature features, “Crawl” promised to make a quick shot to personal favor. In short, Kaya Scodelario plays Haley Keller, a star swimmer enduring some struggles in the pool. When a hurricane bears down on Florida, she is urged to locate her father and former coach.

He is not responding to any calls or messages, so Kaya Scodelario's Haley makes her way into the storm to check on him. “Crawl” takes a while building to the reveal of what has him indisposed. From there, it is a non-stop adrenaline ride wrapped in a father/daughter drama.

As you may have surmised, Haley and her dad, Dave (Barry Pepper), will have to battle terrible weather and... alligators, in their bid for survival. It is a lot with the hurricane by itself. “Crawl” adding in the alligators provides another layer to the stressful premise.

Director Alexandre Aja does a fantastic job of ratcheting up the tension. “Crawl” starts at a bit of a slow boil before hitting temps well above 212°F. There is an intrinsically palpable emotion that facing mortality on such a dramatic scale evokes. Given the scenario, “Crawl” could devolve into melodrama, but it shows restraint.

That said, it is a wild and scary premise. There is something about humans squaring off with animals that will always bring out the animal instinct to survive. Movies like “Backcountry” and the “Open Water” franchise have done a masterful job portraying that. While “Crawl” lacks those movies' realism, it still has a massive emotional pull.

In fact, it caused one of the more stressful reactions I can recently recall having. It is a testament to the characters in “Crawl” that such emotion was stirred. The father/daughter duo exhibit smart and then really horrible judgment throughout the film. Like any horror movie, you have to forgive some awful decisions on their part to justify a runtime that characters acting smarter may have avoided.

“Crawl” is stress-inducing, and there is a constant sense that one or both of its two leads could die. That is not a feeling you commonly get from the genre. There is an unusual "no one is safe" vibe the film creates, which is a sign of how well it builds its suspense.

Not since “The Strangers” have I felt so uncertain of the central characters' fate. That is a big compliment to “Crawl,” considering “The Strangers” remains a horror standard-bearer. There is something that holds the movie back from achieving the films mentioned above's gravitas.

Undermining “Crawl” is the use of CGI alligators as opposed to animatronic puppetry, mixed footage of real alligators, or both. A complaint similarly voiced over “The Shallows.” Puppets age better, and they look more authentic. Two factors that would have put “Crawl” over the top. CGI is just not there to compete anywhere near the level that puppets operate at.

Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper each give magnificent turns in conjuring the real-life bite of their CGI adversaries. Not only do they bring a believability to the story they are telling, but they also create a powerful father/daughter bond that serves the drama at the heart of “Crawl.”

The movie starts off strong before losing its momentum and coherent, rational a bit in its third act. Despite its frustrating final chapter, it is because “Crawl” is capable of drawing viewers in so profoundly that it succeeds in being memorable. That is an accomplishment few can say they have achieved.

Rating: 7.5/10

[Featured Image by Paramount Pictures]