I was at a classic screening of Jaws where the theater was full and people cheered when the shark was blown up. For a movie that’s over forty years old, it remains one of the greatest blockbusters despite having a simple premise. In fact, if we take in Moby Dick in as well, it seems that the man vs. beast storylines have been popular for a long time. I think it's because not only do we like to be reminded how fragile people can be, but how much we love seeing ourselves taking on typical animals and making them out to be monsters.
When you really think about it, there are a lot of animals that can kill us. We've seen killer sharks, bears, bees, wolves, birds, whales, dogs, cats, and even regular insects. In the case of today's movie, we've even seen killer alligators. Given I live in California, I rarely see those, and even then, it's usually at the zoo. That doesn't mean that I'm aware of their presence in in southeast, especially in Florida. I can see them as menacing, given how the look almost dinosaur-like. Let's see what producer Sam Rami can do with this in Crawl.
A college-aged swimmer Haley (played by Kaya Scodelario) gets an alert about a category 5 hurricane about the strike the Tampa area of Florida. She also gets a call from her sister that their dad hasn't been heard from and cannot into contact. Worried, Haley drives into the direction the storm is coming into to get her dad. Upon arriving at his apartment, it's empty except for his dog. She then goes to the old family home that’s about to be sold. She arrives to find his car and phone, but still no sign of where he is.
She goes into the basement and finally finds him (played by Barry Pepper) injured with bite marks. It's not long when large alligators are discovered and are hungry. She loses her phone and tries to think of a way for her and her father to get out. On top of that, the hurricane arrives with lots of rain. With the floodwater creeping into the basement, they figure they have less then an hour before they drown. It's a battle against two forms of nature as Haley needs really push through, even though she takes a bite or two from the gators.
Though Sam Rami didn't direct Crawl, you can see his influence as not only is it an effectively scary concept, but this makes for a fun sit in a movie theater (along with the fact that it isn't too long at ninety minutes). I would put this in the same category as Jaws in terms of entertainment. Is it as smart as Jaws? No, but the purpose of Crawl is to simply give us a quick story of survival and it does it well. Much of comes that little explanation is given to the alligators hunger other then nature. No genetic modification or lab experiment gone wrong; just abnormally larger alligators.
It helps too that both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper make for a likable father-daughter pair. You get the sense while there is some tension between the two, its put aside to focus on their survival. This is the kind of story that I'm sure a lot of filmmakers would have been tempted to go into more detail. Something like that would have been called for in a novel, but Crawl understands that simple is best in thrillers. That isn't to say that parts of their past isn't explored, but it manages to feel natural then forced exposition.
Shall we talk more about the gators? This is another instance where I would put the movie into the same category as Jaws. We see these animals more then we saw the shark in the latter, but thanks to some good special effects (a mix of practical and CGI), they come off as convincing and even scary. We tend to forget that nature itself can be terrifying. Alligators have gone after people before. Hurricanes can drown people. An extra explanation on why it's all going on would have been an insult.
I'll give this five alligator signs out of five. Crawl is exactly the kind of summer movie I want to see more of: original, quick, and fun. It's refreshing to see something like this which can come off as old fashioned, but welcoming. We need these kinds of thrillers against the superhero sequel remake-filled schedules. This makes for a fun bite.