Alexandre Aja’s Crawl takes a ferocious bite out of this summer’s horror competition. As a lover of “Aqua Terror” and “When Animals Attack” savagery, a smile stayed plastered across my face all screening long. Keep your seventeenth Annabelle sequels and Chucky 2.0 reboots, because 2019 is the Year of the ‘Gator. Aja’s latest is packed sardine-solid with genuine scares, unleashed intensity, and more submerged danger than Caddyshack’s Baby Ruth scene. Am I overselling Crawl? Hell no (not in my eyes). Summer horror greatness has assumed its rightfully scaly form.
Kaya Scodelario stars as Floridian collegiate swimmer Haley Keller, who’s en route to check on her father Dave (Barry Pepper) before a Category 5 hurricane touches land. Not at his bachelor’s condo, Haley finds pops’ truck at their old homestead (pre-divorce). She enters, but still no sign of Dave. “Sugar,” the family dog, barks down a rickety crawlspace staircase to suggest Dave might be under the house. Haley creeps down, finds her parent severely injured, and encounters the beast responsible: an alligator.
Writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen know what creature fans desire: jaw-gnashing action. Reveal your chomp-chomps early, enact carnage often. Haley’s highway drive into pounding sheet-rain instills the severity of impending windblown fury, which is enough to permit unease. Her descent into an architectural underbelly where Dave lays unconscious, bleeding, doesn’t take much longer. Tension strings noticeably tight, then *SMASH* – hungry Mr. Gator busts in like a bloodthirsty Kool-Aid Man. It takes a mighty effort to startle this tested genre critic, but Crawl had me jolting and gasping on multiple occasions, starting even before reptilian threats bash their basement entryway.
With rainwaters pouring in from overflow drainage pipes and permeated stone patterns carved into foundation walls, it’s only a matter of time before Haley and chewed-up Dave are guzzling liquid instead of air. Aja locks viewers underground longer than expected, but wrings every droplet of caged paranoia before emerging topside. Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography hugs support beams as beady alligator eyes pierce from not-too-distant shadows. Haley must navigate a labyrinth of pipes, rising H20 levels, and multiple aquatic adversaries *just* to reach ground level – which won’t be safe once storm clouds reach full destructive potential.
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All this is to say Crawl never allows rested breathing. Aja ratchets food-chain horrors up to an alarming level, each foiled escape revealing yet another corpse or obstacle. It’s as white-knuckled as cinema comes, making characters work for their survival. Nods to past subgenre “classics” such as Deep Blue Sea test the waters of perception, as Haley’s flooded kitchen mirrors LL Cool J’s similar predicament (but with sharks). You never know when gators can lunge from beneath, and Aja revels in anticipatory anxiety. Especially when Sugar’s doggy-paddling away, which – don’t worry – no dead dogs here.
Some may find the film bogged down by father-daughter disconnects and rekindling, but swimmer’s throughlines keep conversations topical. As a rostered Florida Gator athlete, Haley’s drive and determination involve her in multiple races against gliding sea monsters. Dave coincidentally nicknames his golden girl an “Apex Predator” for motivation, as it’s their “thing” from childhood. Does relationship banter become hokey amidst feeding frenzies? Sure, talking about “this ‘ol house” and debating blame for broken families. Does it provide *some* respite from an otherwise splish-splashing fanged assault? Call me corny, but it’s enough character development without wading too deep into emotional trauma. Not to distract from Scodelario’s profoundly multifaceted performance as a panicked possible gator snack then badass survivor and torpedoing “Aquawoman” hero.
Of course, you’re not here for Barry Pepper’s “coach of the year” speeches. Crawl is Everglades-nasty in that nature’s primality makes for messy feasting. Everyone from gas station looters to law enforcement finds themselves within the vice-tight clench of alligator jaws – but that’s just the beginning. Aja’s signature gore doesn’t stop with leaky red-dye clouds. Multiple sequences brought me back to the grotesque glory of Piranha 3D, given how Aja’s vision treats death or injury with relentless brutality. Fear and hopelessness projects from victims’ eyes as they’re tossed around like ragdolls, caught in gator “death rolls,” until all that’s left are mangled corpses or sustained wounds capable of causing phantom pains. Gory with a capital “G-OH MY GOD?!” I am a happy aqua-horror fan.
As for Aja’s digitized alligators, Crawl belongs in a class with The Shallows as creature features that sell photorealistic animal animations. Pixelation isn’t always nature’s best friend, especially during daylight sequences, but Haley’s encounters never suffer from ugly digitized counterparts. The snarls, those gape-mouthed hisses, all so National Geographic. Aja’s team does their homework and designs *multiple* alligators – yes, be extremely giddy – that never hinder audience experience. Not all “CGI” is created equal.
Are you ready for my closing hyperbole punch? Crawl gets your heart pounding, nerves buckling, and keys into our darkest “Aqua Horror” nightmares. I love this movie, no shame in the game. It’s the vicious summer horror bite my seasonal theatergoing craves. Crisp Halloween chills in the fall, Christmas horror in the winter, “Sunny Scary” come spring, but summer? Plunge me into the murkiest depths where some lurking underwater demon nestles, waiting to strike. Alexandre Aja has done just that, once again making Mother Nature man’s greatest enemy to untamed and unforgiving respects.
Crawl is a sensationally thrilling aquatic nightmare filled with carnage, bubbling chaos, and all the creature-feature intensity that makes this the summer's must-see horror event.