The big monster movie of the summer was supposed to be Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the latest entry in Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse. However, the sequel to 2014’s Godzilla stumbled during one of the more underwhelming summer blockbuster seasons in recent memory.
Instead, the summer’s best monster movie was a relatively modest affair. Crawl was shot on a budget of $13.5 million, with Belgrade, Serbia standing in for Florida. But the film has an impressive pedigree, produced by The Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell director Sam Raimi and directed by Alexandre Aja of The Hills Have Eyes and Horns.
Crawl knows exactly what it is doing. It is an impressively lean production, especially in the era of narrative bloat and forced scale. Michael and Shawn Rasmussen’s script is a work of pure efficiency, cramming all of its thrills and spills into a tight 87 minutes.
The premise is simple. Set in Florida during a hurricane, it follows competitive swimmer Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) as she tries to save her father from an alligator that has sneaked into his flooding crawl space. The opening scene introduces Haley by showing off the swimming skill that will inevitably come in handy when the young woman finds herself fighting for her life against giant carnivorous reptiles. It’s not especially elegant or artful, but that simplicity is the point.
Crawl is never weighed down by thematic or metaphorical concerns. The movie is not an allegory or commentary. It never aspires to be elevated horror or to offer any profound statement. Like competitive swimmers and its crocodilian killing machines, Crawl is designed to move cleanly from one beat to another.
As the water rises, Keller and her father Dave (Barry Pepper) must think quickly to outwit the predators stalking them through the crawl space. The stakes are intimate, but compelling. Most of the movie is spent trying to get out of that crawl space, with life or death often coming down to seemingly mundane things like the placement of a table in the house above. This gives the movie a compelling and tangible quality, an immediacy that anchors the drama.
Aja keeps the action claustrophobic, focusing on his two leads even as fresh meat occasionally wanders into the narrative by way of opportunistic looters or local search and rescue. Crawl leans a little too heavily on computer-generated special effects at points, but Aja keeps it grounded in the physical location enough to build palpable suspense and land a few good jump scares.
It would be absurd to compare Crawl to Jaws, which remains the gold standard of aquatic monster movies. But the film does recall the pulpy thrills of 2016’s shark attack movie The Shallows, a similar back-to-basics survival horror flick built around a small cast and visceral menace. Crawl is one alligator very worth seeing later.
Crawl is currently available to stream online via services like iTunes or Vudu. It will be released on physical media on Oct. 15.