“Crawl” Deserves a Place in the Creature Feature Canon

(This review was originally published on So Anyways: Movies.)

Every summer one or two creature features try to add themselves to the genre’s prestigious canon, joining the ranks of classics like Jaws, Tremors, The Thing, and the debatable Anaconda. Yet most attempts end up dismal and forgettable, even if entertaining. Recent desolate attempts include Shallows, 47 Meters Down, Birdbox, and virtually any movie with “shark” in the title. We’ve seen this routine broken a few times recently with Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host, the Australian crocodile film Rogue, and 2017’s Boar, which I’ll fight you over. Crawl, the french director Alexandre Aja’s 2019 attempt, deserves its place in this ever-so exclusive canon. 

The plot is quite simple and streamlined: A hurricane strikes as Florida Gator swimmer, Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario), receives a phone call from her worried sister who asks her to check on their father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), who lives a few hours away. Haley takes off, in the middle of the hurricane, struggles to find her father, but with the help of his dog, Sugar, she finds him hanging onto the fringes of life in their crawlspace. Shortly after, she discovers they are not alone as the gators begin their Mcfeast. After several attacks, locking a gator in a shower, and flipping their boat, they’re eventually handed a break as they respite on the roof — with Sugar, their genre trope breaking dog. 

This movie had no right to be as good as it ended up, but I found myself ripe with anxiety at about the 15 minute mark when Haley hunches over to go to the crawl space. It was at best 15 minutes into the film and the protagonist was already forced to crawl, with over an hour still on the runtime. I knew I was in for a treat. 

But the film doesn’t just “[deliver] a smoothly efficient popcorn picture” as Jeannette Catsoulis writes. Like any great creature feature, with Godzilla setting the prime example, the monster must necessarily touch on cultural anxieties, whether nuclear war or the commies. And at first glance it’s easy to shrug off Crawl here. Aja spends little to no time outside of the protagonist’s perspective. There is no television to broadcast the threat and the Alligator has never played a role in American iconography. But the anxiety is so simple and reaches to the bedrock of half of genre storytelling: the confrontation of humankind and nature. Nature will always enjoy the upper-hand in the struggle with homosapiens because we don’t belong here. Aja is abundantly clear; gators step all over our technological achievements and hurricanes sweep our ATMs.  

Half of the film’s genius is its short runtime, just under an hour and a half, which forces Aja to compress everything: the drama and the monsters must become intertwined, every fact revealed about the character’s must be essential, every attack different than the last. 

Bullet point thoughts: 

  • Haley is braver than me. I said “Nope. Not a chance” while she was still in her car. 
  • Glad to see the filmmakers reject classic genre tropes, such as the male savior figure (who gets brutally munched) and the “Kill the dog to make our audience feel something since we can’t do it with our characters” trope. 
  • I had no clue there were multiple gators and that added to the fun. 
  • Why film in Serbia? 

For an environmental interpretation read Noah Berlatsky’s review from GQ.

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