Film Review: Crawl, Directed by Alexandra Aja

Crawl is an absolute must-watch for fans of creature horror. Those fond of director Alexandra Aja’s previous work and the predatory unease of Jaws and Rogue will find plenty to delight in and hide from.

Crawl follows Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario), a swimmer on a university scholarship who returns to her hometown of Coral Lake, Florida to search for her estranged father Dave (Barry Pepper) during a Category 5 hurricane.

After she discovers him unconscious in the basement of their old family home, the pair are hunted by a group of monstrous alligators and must find a way to survive as the town begins to flood.

Crawl is directed by Alexandre Aja, who has an established history in the horror genre but seems perpetually missing some vital element to find great success. The French film director rose to fame with the 2003 psychological film, Haute Tension (also known as High Tension or Switchblade Romance) which he followed with a string of relatively successful and underrated horror films in The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors, and Piranha 3D.

One of the things Aja does well is in building tension and slowly increasing the intensity as the film heads toward an often-brutal conclusion. The pacing, cinematography, and sound from the opening scenes of Crawl immediately set a harsh and unforgiving tone, which lead actress Kaya Scodelario does brilliantly to capture in her character. There’s a fierce determination in Haley that feels instantly authentic, but one that deflates as the film comes to its conclusion.

This is largely down to the character of Dave, played by the brilliant Barry Pepper, who is vital to the story but unfortunately provides few, and ill-timed, reasons for us to empathise or connect with his character. The lack of connection is shared by the two leads, and while the forced, grating initial conversations could be argued as an example of their strained and distant relationship, it never carries the emotion of childhood trauma we see tied to this later in the film.

The effect this has on the film as a whole is in dismantling those nail-biting moments of tension – of which there are many – and leaving the film ending in a somewhat anticlimactic cheese-ball finish. This is a shame, because almost everything else in the film – the horror – is done almost flawlessly. Giant alligators are the central predator in the film, and the creatures satisfy in menacing appearance, sound, and scale. Crawl is a film that expertly places and uses jump-scares, but balances this by exploring a list of fears and phobias that will satisfy a broad range of horror fans.

Wonderfully timed and written sub-stories that surround the main plot authentically allow the film to stretch its monster-horror legs, and offer respite from the water-filled, claustrophobic main story. Sound is a standout highlight for the film; the snapping of jaws, crunching of bones, and the eerie quiet of underwater are all flawlessly executed and manage to quickly revitalise any lost sense of tension when the film starts to follow video-game logic.

An absolute must-watch for fans of creature horror, and those fond of Aja’s previous work and the predatory unease of Jaws and Rogue will find plenty to delight in and hide from. Unfortunately, for fans of Aja, Crawl is another example of the highly anticipated director delivering a film that falls just short of excellence, providing many reasons to enjoy it, but none that feel representative of the director’s full potential.

~Oxford Lamoureaux

Watch the trailer: