As with all review-caps, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.
Ever since Jaws came out back in 1975, Hollywood’s been looking for a way to recreate it (and mainly its massive box office success). And while I’m pretty sure we can all agree that it’s never happened and probably never will, that still won’t stop the studios from churning out more aquatic monster movies. In the last few decades, we’ve gotten everything from a bunch of terrible Jaws sequels, Alligator (1980) and Piranha (1978 and 2010’s version – which is admittedly awful but a fun kind of awful) – to even worse stuff like the Sharknado TV movies (why, oh why are they still a thing?). Then, every once in a while, something a little better pops up like Lake Placid (1999), Open Water (2003) and The Meg (2018), but they’re still not exactly the greatest thing ever. Now we have Crawl, which veers away from the usual great white shark as the big bad and focuses on the not-to-be-underestimated alligator as the bad guys of choice. And while the flick’s no classic a classic by any stretch, I dug it and would definitely include it with the better monster movies.
So our story begins at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where the women’s swim team (called the ‘Gators’ – hahaha) is running a practice. Among the swimmers is our heroine, Haley (Kaya Scodelario), who’s looking to improve her time. She swims like an Olympian but unfortunately loses the winning spot by just a fraction of a second. The look on her face as she congratulates her winning teammate says it all – she’s worried.
After practice, Haley gets a call from her older sister Beth (Morfydd Clark), who chastises her for still being within the strike zone of the Category 5 hurricane that’s all over the news, bearing down on most of the state. Beth also wants to know if Haley’s heard from their father, Dave (the awesome Barry Pepper), whom she’s called repeatedly and hasn’t heard back from. As the sisters talk it’s clear there’s drama between them and drama with their father. But Haley says she’s only a couple of hours away and will drive down to check on him.
As expected, when she gets closer to the flood area she’s stopped by the local cops, one of whom is an old friend named Wayne (Ross Anderson). Haley tells him the deal but he still won’t allow her through – too dangerous. Haley agrees to turn back but asks Wayne if he’ll go and check on her dad for her. He agrees but it doesn’t matter because Haley does what we all know she must do and goes around the roadblock anyway. She stops at her father’s condo, not finding him. But she does find his dog, Sugar, and what looks to be the remnants of a depressed father and husband’s life, old photos laid out everywhere. Haley calls Beth and tells her what she found. But since he’s not there, there’s only one other place he could be – their old house that’s up for sale, which of course, is even deeper in the area of danger.
So Haley keeps on driving through the heavy downpour and the flooding roads to the old house, where she sees her dad’s truck parked outside. Haley (and Sugar) goes inside to look around, but can’t find him or get him to answer up to her frequent calls to him. Finally, she ventures out to the garage and finds Sugar there, barking at the open doors to the crawlspace under the house.
A reluctant Haley ventures down and starts crawling through the dark, muddy, smelly space, continuing to call for her dad, who still won’t answer. But she hears his radio playing and finds his tools, jacket – and a set of bloody hand prints on one of the pipes. When she finally does find him, he’s unconscious from his injuries. So she finds a tarp, loads him on and starts to drag him toward the stairs when all of a sudden, bam! A friggin’ huge alligator appears in her way and Haley has to struggle to get herself and her dad’s dead weight behind a set of pipes for safety.
Dad finally rouses and Haley uses her sweatshirt to collect rainwater for him to drink, while chastising him for being at the house at all. Dave says he was trying to board the place up when two huge gators attacked him, having found their way in through a drainpipe connected to the house. In the ensuing attack, they munched up his shoulder and he broke a leg. And now they’re stuck there in the crawlspace with the relentless rain pouring in.
So the first thing Haley needs to do is get to her cell phone, which she dropped (of course). This starts the first of many sequences of Haley sneaking and crawling through the muddy dark, with the alligators lurking close by. She gets to her phone and calls 911 but the call gets dropped – and one of the alligators springs on her, catching her by the leg. Haley manages to fight her way free and get behind some other pipes – but she’s separated from her dad now. He calls to her, asking if she’s alright – and of course, she says she’s fine even though her leg’s shredded. So she bravely does the typical movie thing and shoves a flashlight in her mouth to dull her screams while she ties a makeshift tourniquet around her leg. Meanwhile, Dave does the same thing to his busted leg, because Hollywood knows how much we all love to watch people set their own broken bones.
Then they hear an approaching boat – Haley looks out to see some people pulling up to the gas station across the way – turns out to be a few kids on a looting spree, taking everything they can get their hands on, including the ATM machine. Haley screams her heart out and waves her wind-up flashlight at them, drawing their attention – alas, it’s way too early in the movie for our heroes to be rescued, so of course in come the gators, making the naughty looting kids their next meal.
So what to do now? Dave says he can distract the gators by banging on the pipes while Haley goes for an access panel in the floor above them. They try it, and the gators swim toward the noise – but Haley finds the panel in the floor’s stuck in place by an unfortunately placed piece of furniture. No go. But in a stroke of luck, they hear another approaching boat – turns out to be Wayne and another officer, Pete (Jose Palma), coming to check on Dave as promised. Pete stays with the boat while Wayne ventures in. Haley and her dad scream and yell and bang on the pipes, drawing him to the open doors – where poor Wayne gets immediately snatched and chomped. Haley tries to help him, but can’t get him out of the gator’s jaws and he dies in a big bloody mess. And outside, while clearing some muck out of the boat’s propeller, Pete has the same unfortunate luck.
Haley finds her way back to her dad and huddles there with him for a while, traumatized by what just happened. And here, as sprinkled throughout the flick, they talk about their relationship and the family drama. Haley’s worried that she won’t be able to maintain her spot on the team and will lose her scholarship. Dave gives her a coach’s pep talk – and it turns out that he used to coach Haley when she was a kid. He was so focused and relentless in his methods that Haley believes it’s why her mom left. But Dave assures her that the divorce had nothing to do with any of that – that he was just a bad husband and her mom deserved to be happy. Haley says that he deserves to be happy, too – that he should stop punishing himself by hanging on to their old house.
But when you go to see a flick like this, you’re not paying to listen to all that annoying, character-developing dialogue, are you? Nope, you’re there to see giant gators attack. So it’s time to wrap up the family drama already and get back to the business at hand. Haley’s next plan is to go for the drainpipe – it’s the only other way out. Dave is adamantly against it, since that’s how the gators found their way in in the first place. But there’s no other way out, and of course the crawlspace is rapidly filling with water.
On her way to the drainpipe, Haley not only finds a nest full of hatched gator eggs (in that Jurassic Park-y ‘life finds a way’ kinda moment) but she also finds what’s left of Wayne. Gross. But she manages to get the gun off his belt – just in time to get attacked again. This time the gator chomps down on her arm – but it’s the same arm holding the gun, and in one of the best parts of the whole flick, Haley empties the magazine into the gator with the gun inside the gator. Pretty ingenious if you ask me.
But it’s only a temporary win since they still have to get out of the house. So Haley makes for the drainpipe and swims through, seeing more gators swimming by the open end. She manages to sneak by and get back into the house. She does her damndest to bash open a hole in the floor to get her dad out – but by the time she manages to pull him out, he’s drowned. There’s the obligatory tense moment while we wait to see if Haley’s attempts at CPR will work – and of course, they do. Dave revives and they grab up the dog and head outside, wading their way through the waist-high water, being careful not to make any splashing movements. But it’s too risky – there are just too many gators. So Dave gives Haley the pep talk of all pep talks, telling her to swim for the looters’ boat still there at the gas station. He tells her she’s faster, she’s smarter, she can do it – and of course, she does.
But just as she comes back with the boat and Dad and the dog pile in, the levee breaks and a huge wave of water rushes in at like a hundred miles an hour, sending them and the boat crashing back into the house. Then the gators swim in and attack again, separating Haley and Dave – and one of them gets a hold of Dave’s arm and rips it off at the elbow. Really gross. So while he’s doing the self-tourniquet thing again, Haley’s in the kitchen, up on top of the sink to stay out of the water. She jumps from one piece of floating furniture to another, trying to get back to her dad.
But she falls into the water of course, and gets attacked again – the gator this time getting a hold of her shoulder and pulling her under. And while it twirls Haley round and round in a death roll, she barely manages to grab a hold of a flare – which she lights and then stabs the gator with it. It releases her and she swims away, but only manages to escape to a bathroom, where she takes cover behind the glass shower doors. And then in the other ingenious move on the flick’s part, Haley lures the gator inside the closed doors, trapping it while she vaults over the top.
Then Haley gets back to her dad (and the dog) and they get up to the roof through the attic, barely above the water line at this point. And as they lay there on the roof, they see the lights of an approaching helicopter. Rescued at last! And Haley stands up with a lit flare, looking like the champion she is. Aww. The end. Really. Yeah, surprisingly there’s no cheap shot where another gator leaps into frame and snatches her. I really was half-expecting that to happen.
So is Crawl a Jaws-level thriller? Hell no. It’s about as basic and by-the-numbers as it gets. But at the same time, there’s also an intelligent straightforwardness about it. At only 87 minutes, it gets in, gets out and delivers the promised goods. And Kaya Scodelario does a great job of making Haley believable – both strong and brave without being obnoxious about it. So while you won’t see Shakespearean drama or some massive epic in Crawl, you will find yourself drawn in and you’ll have fun – and there’s definite merit in that.
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Release Date: July 12, 2019
Run Time: 1 hr 27 min
Distributor: Paramount Pictures