This summer’s blockbuster season has hardly been abounding in the kinds of knock-out hits we’re used to. It’s been a strange dry patch, bookended by Avengers: Endgame and the coming climactic clown capper It Chapter Two, but finally, washing up at the UK box office this late August to quench our thirst is Crawl.
Cut from the same cloth as director Alexandre Aja’s earlier creature feature Piranha 3D, Crawl wants to do nothing more than entertain the bejesus out of you. There’s no need to check your brain at the door because this isn’t the kind of flick that does things half-heartedly. As it’s a concept that might alienate certain moviegoers, Aja tempers his well-crafted action with a puckish sense of humour, but never allows it to edge towards facetious. His priority here is clearly to give you as many waterlogged thrills as possible and Crawl delivers an exhilarating shock to the system.
Clocking in at less than 90 minutes – one of the film’s greatest assets – Crawl gets to work very quickly. In a tidy opening, we’re soon introduced to Kaya Scodelario’s Haley, a Florida student who left home young to pursue a swimming career, as the imminent arrival of a Category 5 hurricane looms. Naturally, she’s the one family member closest to her divorced and estranged dad, Dave (Barry Pepper), who has gone off the grid. Defying government advice, she sets off to check on him and when she finds him injured in the basement of his rickety old home, it’s not long before they both realise a congregation of alligators (that’s the official collective noun – we checked) has joined them.
While the trailer might suggest there are few surprises in Crawl, it does that rather rare thing of basically revealing everything in the trailer and still impressing you with how it puts it all together. It’s a thriller set within a precise time frame and yet Aja doesn’t cut corners trying to explain Haley and Dave’s attempts at escape, every action moving at a more or less realistic pace. Everything seems so carefully calibrated to get as many kicks out of the audience as possible, and even something like the obligatory act two cannon fodder materialises in a surprisingly natural way.
A thriller that’s relatively sparse in location with only a handful of characters lives or dies on the performance of its lead. It is both a relief and absolutely no surprise that Kaya Scodelario is a sensational action heroine. She embraces every physical ordeal the battered but energised Haley has to go through, and it is exhausting watching how many beatings she takes. In her quieter moments, Scodelario gives us some brief glimpses of light and shade in Haley’s knotty personal life, and when it comes to out-swimming a titanic gator, she more than delivers. Like Blake Lively in The Shallows before her, Scodelario’s memorable performance is a strikingly physical and attentive turn from a fantastically committed actor.
When it comes to the alligator action, Crawl doesn’t let up. There’s no Jaws-like attempt here to obscure the creatures, and Aja absolutely goes for broke with his band of villains. They’re lethal, generous in number, omnipotent and, most importantly, completely relentless. Every attack is superbly choreographed and there’s enough of a comedown between each encounter for the toothy action to never feel monotonous. Crawl is the kind of single location creature feature that actually elicited audible reactions from the audience at our screening – and not the annoying kind.
It’s difficult to go into too much detail when Crawl relies a lot on your lowered expectations. Because of that, and because of how duff most everything else has been, Crawl is a refreshing late-summer surprise. Like a double shot of espresso or the sight of umpteen alligators in your basement, it’s a shocking, heady little spectacle, perfectly pitched and wrapped in a cool 90 minutes.
Crawl is in cinemas now.