Cinema Dispatch: Crawl

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Crawl and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by Alexandre Aja

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an alligator (or crocodile movie) before.  Heck, we can probably throw snakes in there too now that I think about it.  Not even Snakes on a plane!  It’s an entire sub genre of horror that just kind of passed me by, but I guess now is as good a time as any; especially considering how lackluster my year for horror has been.  What; were expecting a review from ANOTHER film by the guy who made Hereditary?  Yeah, I’m good actually!  Don’t need any more of… whatever that is in my life, but you all enjoy!  I’ve got a movie about a crocodile in a basement to watch instead!  Does this horror film manage to bring the scares and the fun with its nifty little premise while ALSO giving me a valid excuse to avoid Midsommar?  Let’s find out!!

Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is a swimmer in college who’s been having trouble outperforming here peers which is bad news for her scholarship, but even WORSE is the fact that she now has to drive to the south of Florida to check on her dad (Barry Pepper) who for whatever reason isn’t answering his phone and is right in the path of a category 5 hurricane.  She just barely manages to get to her childhood home before the storm kicks into high gear and also manages to find her father, but it turns out that he’s stuck in the basement with a bite mark on his leg and at least one alligator that’s feeling rather smug about it.  So now they’re BOTH stuck in the basement in a small area where the pipes make it impossible for the gators to get to them, but the rain keeps on pouring and the basement keeps on filling which means they have to find a way out before they both drown; and even THEN they’re in the middle of a hurricane that could knock the house over given enough time so they have to find a way to make it through that as well!  Can Haley save her dad and use her amazing swimming skills to outsmart these vicious predators who seem particularly cross with them for some reason?  Why are there alligators in the basement in the first place, and could this basement situation just be the tip of the ice burg?  Is this all just an elaborate adaptation of that app game Where’s My Water!?

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Darn you, Swampy!  You have all the water now, what more do you want!?

I thought it was pretty good!  It certainly works a lot better as a spectacle than as a fully realized narrative, but from that perspective it does its job a heck of a lot better than other movies in that same vein with ten times the budget.   The small amount of spotty CG here and there and a few lackluster performances are certainly problems, but that’s just as good a descriptor of any number of films I’ve seen this year already that I’ve enjoyed.  Given the kind of movie this is trying to be and the resources at hand, I think this does about as good with its ridiculous premise as you can hope for which is what you want out of a fun summertime horror movie like this!

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“BEACH PARTY!!  IF ANYONE PLAYS CROCODILE ROCK THOUGH, I’LL PUNCH THEM IN THE THROAT!!”

What got me hooked right off the bat was the movie’s very strong atmosphere.  The weather effects throughout the movie are top notch and blow similar efforts like The Hurricane Heist (a movie I’m sure you all forgot existed) out of the proverbial water.  The constant deluge of cold and hard rain, the way that everything is damp and miserable, it all creates something utterly foreboding and somewhat sickly; like the world itself is trying to flushes these bickering lifeforms out of its system.  All that along with the strong camerawork adds an oppressive and closed off undertone throughout the entire film that makes the tiny victories our characters achieve feel that much more insignificant; like fighting over a bottle of water in an endless desert, or finding a few canned goods in a nuclear wasteland.  And yet with all of that it never gets SO broody and intense that it can’t have fun with the all the alligator action going on, and it ends managing these disparate tones with deftness and ease.  It helps that the dread going on outside of the house with the dour weather complements the omnipresent threat of the alligators within the house, so even if the threats feel somewhat different in tone it all ends up working together towards the goal of putting our characters in grave danger which in turn makes it exciting when they try to find ways out of it.

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“My mother always said I’d die like this.  I thought she was being way too specific, but sure enough…”

Speaking of the alligators, they look good but not great.  Something about the way they moved felt a bit cartoonish (I always imagine them being rather slow where these dudes move at lightning speed), but it’s not enough to shatter your suspension of disbelief.  What might strain it though are the times the movie tries to up the stakes and show the menace of its star creatures comes off as silly instead.  I know I just praised it for balancing its more silly alligator action inside the house with the more serious rainstorm outside of it, but the places where it starts to falter are these scenes with the alligators that coincidentally happen outside the house.  There are a few hapless losers who are still in the area as the storm rages on and I don’t know, the way the OTHER alligators take them out and show off some gore kind of uncut what great tension was being built with the alligators inside the house.  I get that these bone crunching scenes are intentional as the film’s tongue is very firmly in its cheek (just look at the end credits for proof of that), but it still pulled me out of a it a bit when the alligators went out of their way to be jerks instead of the somewhat more restrained situations going on inside the house.  The film uses darkness very effectively for a few jump scares that feel EARNED because the threat is genuinely there whenever it happens (SURPRISE!  ALLIGATORS!!)  instead of some cats jumping around or people sneaking up on one another for no reason.  It’s like if the moody atmosphere of the first Nightmare on Elm Street was confined specifically to Nancy’s dreams, but then everyone else was dealing with Freddy from parts five and six.  You can still see how they connect, but the differences don’t complement each other too well.

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Now was that entirely necessary?  How did it even jump up there anyway!?

Aside from the occasional moments where the film messes with its otherwise well balanced tone, the big flaw in here is unfortunately the characters.  I’m not one to usually point my finger at an actor and say they’re bad at their job and I’m definitely not going to do that here… but Kaya Scodelario isn’t the most interesting thing about this movie.  She’s fine in the part and I can only imagine the physical toll it would take to film a movie like this, but as far as her performance and the way she emotes, she only seems to be putting in exactly what is written on the page and so her character feels a bit lacking in depth.  Someone like Jessica Rothe from Happy Death Day can turn an already decent role into something phenomenal with just the way they add nuances to their performances, but that’s not really what’s happening here with Scodelario’s character, and it’s not even like she hasn’t been good in other things.  She was just fine in that fifth Pirates of the Caribbean that no one likes, and I thought she did a great job in the Netflix Ted Bundy movie, but here it just felt very… adequate.  The dad played by Barry Pepper fares a lot better and he’s not really given THAT much more to work with as far as characterization, so it does feel like a gap between their performances more than anything else, but if nothing else she’s FAR and away better than the dopy yokels who fill out the rest of the meager cast (and victims); all of whom are what you’d expect from a crappy horror film but feel a bit out of place in this mostly good one.

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“MY ONLY REGRET IS NOT LEARNING HOW TO SWIM!!”

I haven’t had much luck with horror movies this year even if a few of them have been well received by other critics.  For me, it’s basically been Us and nothing else until this movie came along, and while it’s not what I’d call a MASTERPIECE, it’s a lot of fun when it’s firing on all cylinders and even the points where it starts to waver are still entertaining enough that it doesn’t completely derail the rest of the film.  I’d recommend seeing it, especially considering how it’s kind of a dead zone for movies right now with everything outside of Spider-Man being either meh in the good sense or meh in the bad sense.  This is one may have a few issues here and there, but it has a certain amount of creative verve that lets it stand out from everything out right now; especially with its sets and cinematography being top notch for the kind of movie that it is.  Heck, The Lion King would probably be IMPROVED if all the animals were killing humans and fighting in a typhoon!

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