Crawl is a home invasion movie with alligators. Taut in its primal efficiency, it pulls the summer-ready creature feature into some of horror’s most appealing tropes. It’s the story of a father and daughter fighting for their lives and their relationship, while trapped in a house with two terrifying digitized gators. Alexandre Aja’s early success with High Tension (2003) is readily evident, as he peels back his home invasion knowhow in a convincing seasonal fashion.
Category 5 hurricanes ravage the Florida swamplands, turning houses into sunken monuments of our anxieties about global warming. Tapping this cultural anxiety, Aja is at home again, playing survival games in a house retaken by nature. His star, Kaya Scodelario as Haley, is a collegiate swimmer with the University of Florida Gators. She is a fierce competitor spurned on by her father’s tough coaching as a kid. He instilled in her that she is “an apex predator,” and that their family overcomes at all costs. He takes the same tact to getting stormed in by a hurricane, he’ll stay in the home and tough it out; their family overcomes, after all. The way they get stuck in their grim predicament is that Haley must undergo a rescue mission for her dear father, whom she finds holed up in his flooded basement with alligator wounds. And then the alligators come out to visit.
Aja finds play in his tight spaces. The swelling water inside the home provides a new gravity to formerly understood spaces. It has now become the natural environment for the two gators who’ve taken up residence. They have the upper hand in the old home. But her family has history. They have a relationship to mend. The film then doubles as a relationship drama. It is severely underwritten in this aspect. We buy into the two characters because they are all we have. When others venture along their path, they’re quickly turned to alligator feed. Rescue operations and looting of the convenience store across the street are just more fodder to show what the gators really can do when they’ve committed to their meal.
If the film has a signature fault in its action, it’s that fully detailed, digitized gators, are not as worrying as the shark we rarely see in Jaws (1975). They are awfully menacing but they are present and abundant enough in shots, their danger and full potential is readily internalized there, but it does not go any further or seat itself into the recesses of our mind, where we must process what we do not know. While Haley navigates around the series of pipes and old memorials of a life left behind, we do not ever feel she is in mortal danger herself.
Haley is a survivor and it’s clear she will win at whatever she does. Crawl will never play with your emotions, questioning the inner metal or potential of its characters. They are at the end as they are from the start. It is strictly written around its excuses for the mortal terror, and it largely delivers around the visual spectacle that we’re all going for. We want the fun feel-good underwater creature feature of the summer and that is exactly what Aja provides.
Crawl is grim in its seriousness. There is a moment where Haley proclaims, “I AM THE APEX PREDATOR,” and the entire theater buckles with laughter, but there are not any other moments like this. It does not carry the potential of producer Sam Raimi’s signature works of horror-driven comedy. It plays as serious. And so that leaves the question about Crawl being: why does it not go deeper? Could it really be something of a psyche study, a deep familial reparation tale; could it be like Jaws – a movie about more than a shark? It suggests that it would like to be these things. The groundwork is there for a returnable summer creature feature, one that’s put on every year next to the classics, but it does not go all the way with its few ideas. It has been a rough summer for franchises but with any luck, Crawl is the start of a new one, the perfect summer snack ready for someone to come and make its sequel a proper three-course meal.