‘Crawl’: a Tight Little Creature Feature About Climate Change, the Real-Estate Bubble, and Nasty Alligators
Crawl is a lip-smacking hoot with a nasty bite. This tight little eco-horror flick with bone-chomping alligators circling ad hoc survivalists is as lean and focused as its prehistoric monsters. The movie isn’t really smart about characters or their emotional journeys. But so what? It’s viscerally savvy about what chills and thrills.
CRAWL ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Moryfydd Clark
Running time: 87 min
As Cat-5 Hurricane Wendy makes devastating landfall on the Sunshine State, local college co-ed Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her Boston-based sister Beth (Moryfydd Clark) are both worried sick about their estranged Floridian carpenter dad Dave (Barry Pepper). Since Haley is only a few hours away by car, she hits the wind-ravaged, rain-pummeled highway to track him down. After checking his empty downsized condo, Haley pops in on their former family home, a house now in escrow but still full of their old memories.
It’s also full of alligators, as well as Dave’s bleeding body. Dave was down in the crawl-space basement inspecting the house’s integrity when he suffered a gator attack. Seems that the long-mouthed reptiles got into the basement through some mammoth storm drain or something, which I guess wasn’t a problem before but totally is now. Thankfully, the house’s cross-hatched network of subterranean pipes creates cordoned-off pockets of safe spaces that keep the gators at bay. Haley came to save Dave, but now the gators have cornered them both. And the rainfall is starting to fill up the basement.
Enough with the story already! People aren’t here for the plot. Thankfully, French grindhouse auteur Alexandre Aja knows full well to keep exposition brief. The first alligator attacks come within the first 20 minutes and they don’t stop until the bitter end. In between, a buffet of potential rescuers, from looters to cops, come close to saving the father-daughter duo, but the gators end up having them for lunch.
The rains flood the basement, the nearby levees break, and they can only escape by boat or a helicopter rooftop rescue. But Haley and Dave are in it to win it. “We are going to beat these pea-brained lizard shits,” he says to his daughter. They’re already bitter for different reasons. Haley is barely hanging onto her swimming scholarship. Dave confesses that the house sale fell through. Neither had bright prospects anyway, never mind the hurricane. So what’s a few ancient predators?
The scariest aspect of Crawl is its almost mundane plausibility. This is what the world looks like when unchecked climate change stress-tests decaying infrastructure, frayed social services, and personal economic catastrophe. Florida’s alligator-farm culture becomes the ultimate catalyst for a perfect storm of destruction on multiple fronts.
Crawl is such a grim delight because Haley and Dave treat the gators with such unfazed, contemptuous resolve. They’ve grown up among them. The gators don’t terrorize them; they’re annoying. And our heroes clearly know how all the ways to outsmart their antagonists. Gator bite your leg? Better tie off the artery. Gator bite your pistol-packing arm? Keep shooting until it lets go.
These characters are resigned to a DIY lifestyle because they have no other options left. When Dave ends up re-setting his broken bone with a wrench splint and a makeshift toolbelt bandage, you get the nagging suspicion it isn’t his first time. Crawl is technically a monster movie, but it’s also a surprisingly sly statement about the utter collapse of communal empathy. The world is already full of alligators. And no one’s coming to help.