2019, R, 87 min. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Starring Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson, Anson Boon, George Somner.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., July 19, 2019

Ever get the feeling that some filmmakers are overthinking things? Nuance, insight, cinematic innovation, yes, they all have their place. But then, so do films that know they don't need that. That's no insult: After all, a great chef can make a perfect soufflé with five ingredients. That's Crawl, although the end result is delicious screams, rather than discussions about mouthfeel.

It's the definition of a simple setup. Competitive swimmer Haley (Skins' Scodelario) gets a call from her sister, Beth (Clark): Their estranged father, Dave (Pepper), isn't answering his phone, and there's a Category 5 hurricane headed to their old family home in Southern Florida. Haley drives down to find him, only to discover that he's trapped in the crawl space. Why's he trapped? Because there are alligators. Why are there alligators? Because it's Florida.

So, alligators, crawl space, rising floodwaters, a central character who can swim, and a little family tension. What else do you need? Nothing, especially when you have a game cast, and a director who knows how to unleash nature for terrifying, bloody effect.

Aja's career has proved that he is the living embodiment of less is more. His breakout success, 2005's Haute Tension, was a highlight of the French New Extremity, even if it has plot holes you could throw a severed head through (and a large head at that). When he tries to get too complex, like his Munchausen by proxy debacle The 9th Life of Louis Drax, it's a mess. When he concentrates on a flat-out, effective gorefest like his remake of The Hills Have Eyes, he's in his element. Another remake, Piranha 3D, proved he could handle waterborne menaces, and so Crawl is absolutely in his sweet spot.

It's that simple setup; it gets straight to the action, there's just enough personal drama to give the audience a good reason to root for the humans, and it's all just top-notch gory fun. Everything set up in the first 20 minutes powers the remaining hour, with the subtle, underlying tension that the higher the water rises, the more this becomes the alligators' domain (moreover, the script by siblings Michael and Shawn Rasmussen never tries to make the gators anything other than a big, abstract gang of hungry predators). Crawl is lean, mean fun, and in a summer of overwrought art-horror and mean-spirited studio remakes of indie faves, this classic, old-school creature feature is the cleansing bloodbath we need.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Alexandre Aja Films
The 9th Life of Louis Drax
A doctor unravels the mystery of a child in a coma

Josh Kupecki, Sept. 2, 2016

Daniel Radcliffe sprouts horns in this spiky fable about the devil in all of us.

Steve Davis, Oct. 31, 2014

More by Richard Whittaker
Jeff Nichols on the Tragic Romance of <i>The Bikeriders</i>
Jeff Nichols on the Tragic Romance of The Bikeriders
The Austin filmmaker on finding the right POV for his new film

June 20, 2024

A construction worker is drawn into a production of Romeo and Juliet

June 21, 2024


Crawl, Alexandre Aja, Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson, Anson Boon, George Somner

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle