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See You Later, Alligator

Kaya Scodelario
Kaya Scodelario
Paramount Pictures
 87 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed ByAlexandre Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper    

The American alligator is a fearsome creature that can grow to nearly 15 feet long and weigh almost one thousand pounds. While actual attacks on humans are rare, there have usually been one or two gruesome alligator bite fatalities a year, enough to stoke the fear and imagination of the public. Despite the beast’s deadly nature, though, filmmakers have generally given alligators a wide berth over the years. The two best-known alligator attack films, the aptly named Alligator and the deceptively titled Lake Placid, were both somewhat tongue in cheek (Betty White feeds the killer gator in Lake Placid). In fact, the best serious alligator attack movie I can recall isn’t an alligator attack film at all, but, instead, the Australian crocodile thriller, Rogue. Finally, at long last, we get Crawl, a true alligator thriller that isn’t played for laughs. While Crawl isn’t a reptilian Jaws, it’s no Sharknado either.


Actually, the closest aquatic horror film counterpart to Crawl is The Shallows, in which surfer Blake Lively tried to avoid being eaten by a shark after she was stranded on a buoy a couple of hundred yards from land. The heroine of Crawl is made out of similar stuff. Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is a member of the swim team (a skill that quite naturally will come in handy later) at the University of Florida. When a Category 5 hurricane threatens to hit south Florida, Haley’s sister asks her to check up on their father, Dave (Barry Pepper), who lives in the path of the storm and isn’t answering his phone. Haley agrees, even though she and dad have been on the outs for years. She drives around a police roadblock, finds Dave’s new condo deserted, picks up Dave’s dog Sugar, and goes to the family home where she grew up. That house also appears to be empty, but Haley hears noises below the house and goes down into the crawlspace below the floor.


Haley finds an unconscious and injured Dave down in the crawlspace and tries to get him up into the house before the storm waters from the hurricane flood the basement. Unfortunately, she also finds a couple of huge, unfriendly alligators who have made the crawlspace their new home. Haley manages to pull Dave into a safe space behind some pipes and set his badly broken leg. However, the alligators are blocking the exit, and Haley has no way to call for help.


Crawl is not a complicated movie, and it has a tight, lean script. After 20 minutes or so of setup, the last hour concentrates on Haley and Dave’s attempts to escape. True, they occasionally talk about how Dave raised her to be a competitive swimmer (very unsubtle foreshadowing here of how Haley is going to get around the alligators eventually). But those moments are few and far between and serve mainly to let the audience catch its breath before Haley plunges (often quite literally) into the next dangerous situation. Similarly, you can’t have an R-rated horror movie without some good old-fashioned blood and gore. So, a handful of other characters show up during the film for the sole purpose of becoming Purina Gator Chow in a couple of minutes (see clip below).


Other than those minor diversions, the last hour of Crawl is a series of scenes in which Haley, Dave, or Sugar are threatened by alligators or the rising storm waters. When Haley first goes down in the crawlspace, the ground is still above water, but, soon after, a nearby levee conveniently (for plot purposes) breaks, gradually flooding the entire house. As a result, from that point on, Haley and Dave face the threat of possible drowning, as well as having to deal with alligators that are much more mobile and much less visible when they are underwater.


Crawl was directed by horror veteran Alexandre Aja, whose resume includes both humorous (Piranha 3D) and more serious (High Tension) genre efforts. I don’t recall a single intentional bit of humor in Crawl, only a highly efficient, fast-moving storyline. Aja avoids jump scares, for the most part, instead favoring race-against-time suspense. There are several scenes in which a character has to walk, crawl, or swim to a position of relative safety before a rapidly pursuing alligator can get to them. At other times, the audience watches right along with a character who gapes in shock as a gator tries to get around or through a barrier of some sort. And you can’t have a movie about rising floodwaters without at least one scene in which a character is in imminent danger of drowning.


Contrary to what the film’s trailers suggest, Crawl doesn’t have merely one or two alligators that Haley and Dave have to avoid. Instead, there are about a dozen, refugees from a nearby drainage tunnel who find a new home for themselves in the crawlspace. That allows Aja to stage several creative death and destruction scenes in which Haley or Dave dispose of one of the creatures in a crowd-pleasing manner. The best moment occurs when an alligator bites down on Haley’s arm while she’s holding a gun that she retrieved from one of the now-dead minor characters. A deadly ingestion of lead directly down the animal’s throat ends that encounter rather quickly.


Even the movie’s relentless fast pace can’t cover up some of the gaping plot holes, however. I’m not sure from what source the screenwriters learned about hurricanes, but characters don’t walk around outside in the highest winds of a Cat 5 storm (just before the eye passes overhead) as if they were merely in a heavy thunderstorm. And the spunky-dog-in-peril theme wears off rather quickly as Sugar proves to be the luckiest canine in movie history. Worst of all, in the finest tradition of the Hollywood “mere flesh wound,” both Haley and Dave receive several bites during the movie that would incapacitate most people, but the only apparent injuries they suffer are nearly-bloodless and totally forgotten by the next scene. (Fans of blood and gore shouldn’t despair, however; Crawl has a couple of graphic scenes involving badly broken or dismembered body parts.)


Crawl has all the elements, good and bad, of a B-movie in the finest tradition. It features poorly developed characters, a simplistic storyline, and some head-scratching factual blunders. On the other hand, the movie has passable low-budget CGI effects and a decent genre director who knows his business and efficiently moves the film from one crisis to the next. At a mere 87 minutes, Crawl doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it consistently delivers the goods far better than some much more heavily hyped (and expensive) films this summer have. The movie isn’t a must-see by any means, but, for horror and suspense fans, it’s an I’m-glad-I-saw kind of film.

In this clip, a would-be rescuer gets a nasty surprise.

Read other reviews of Crawl: 

Crawl (2019) on IMDb