“CRAWL” — 3 stars — Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson, Anson Boon; R (bloody creature violence, and brief language); in general release; running time: 87 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — “Crawl” is the perfect second movie on a drive-in double feature. It’s not quite strong enough to headline on its own, but it has enough going for it to earn a place on the bill.
Plus, it’s a monster movie, and monster movies are great for drive-ins. Alexandre Aja’s “Crawl” tells the story of a young woman and her estranged father who get trapped in their family home during a hurricane, and have to fight off a gauntlet of hungry alligators to survive.
The bad weather plus man-eating monster elements suggest a close cousin to the “Sharknado” franchise, but “Crawl” plays things with a bit more sober intensity. Kaya Scodelario plays Haley, a Florida University co-ed trying to keep her scholarship on the swim team. Her struggles in the pool mirror her struggles at home, and she’s harboring some emotional baggage left over from her parents’ divorce.
Haley’s father Dave (Barry Pepper) was her swimming coach growing up, which both brought them together and made things difficult once the family ran into choppy waters. When he stops returning phone calls as a massive hurricane starts gathering strength off the Florida coast, Haley sets out to her hometown of Brightrock to find him.
What follows is an exercise in claustrophobic tension. Haley searches Dave’s apartment, and eventually winds up at the family’s old home, where she makes her way into a murky, disgusting crawl space. Here she finds her father unconscious, wounded but alive, and before she’s able to drag him up the stairs, a massive alligator arrives in search of a free lunch.
Dave is nursing a broken leg from his first alligator encounter, and Haley gets chomped in the leg herself while scrambling to safety behind some pipes. So the stage is set as daddy and daughter play a kind of cat-and-mouse game with the alligator while the crawl space slowly fills with water.
Aja takes the simple concept and does his best to draw out the tension, adding new twists here and there to keep things interesting, such as an amusing sequence early on where Haley tries to get the attention of some ill-fated looters who are trying to pull an ATM out of a nearby service station.
Not everything works, but “Crawl” nails enough key moments to keep things interesting, and the excellent sets chart a creepy course from dingy and creepy to flooded and terrifying. Scodelario is solid if not spectacular in the lead, and she has some nice interaction with the veteran Pepper as Haley’s father.
“Crawl” owes a lot to “Jaws” in its style and concept, and despite its rating, Aja’s film doesn’t stray too far beyond the latter’s violent content. In addition to a handful of F-words, “Crawl” just crosses into R-rated territory with some graphic maimings, but as R-rated films go, this one feels pretty tame.Comment on this story
When you add everything up, “Crawl” tops out as a fun but mostly forgettable B-movie creature feature, which might be just fine for a second-tier summer option. But when you realize the film’s producer was the guy behind the “Evil Dead” movies, it’s tempting to wonder if with a little more craziness, “Crawl” could have been even better.
Rating explained: “Crawl” draws its R-rating from some scenes of graphic violence (not much worse than the sight of Pepper’s broken leg) and a few instances of R-rated profanity.