Dir: Alexandre Aja
Where exactly the early 00’s horror movement referred to as the New French Extremity began is debatable, but I remember my first encounter with it. I saw Alexandre Aja’s Switchblade Romance in a ratty London multiplex, and was blown away by the effectiveness with which it assaulted its audience, as I left the screening I saw the girl behind me balled up in her chair in the foetal position, crying. The visceral nature of the film and of that reaction have been burned in my memory ever since. In that moment I saw such promise in Aja and I’ve been waiting more than 15 years for him to fully deliver on it. It looks as though I’ll be waiting a bit longer.
Crawl is a pretty basic ‘nature attacks’ movie. Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is away from home on a college swimming scholarship, but when a hurricane begins to bite she goes to check on her estranged father, Dave (Barry Pepper). She finds him trapped in the basement of their house and as the wind and flooding becomes ever more intense she is trapped with him, and at least two hungry alligators.
In some ways, Crawl is a very stripped back film. Much of it takes place on a single set with just two characters using limited tools and their wits to survive. In this respect, it’s a qualified success. Kaya Scodelario made her name with British TV series Skins, but this is the first major role I’ve seen her in and she comes up to what the part demands. The backstory for her character isn’t new or deep, but she commits to it, as well as to the action elements. On the whole, it’s an effective performance, if not one that particularly stands out. As Haley’s dad, the perennially underrated Barry Pepper, whose career was somewhat derailed by the unfortunate decision to star in Battlefield: Earth, gets a decent showcase. The dynamic between him and Scodelario works and between them, they carry the emotional moments well enough.
While the performances are solid enough, some of the other elements are decidedly more rickety. The writing is perfunctory, with the issues between Haley and her dad feeling like boilerplate tensions between father and daughter the issue. There is also some unintentionally funny dialogue, notably when Dave tells Haley “you’re faster than them” - sure, she’s a competitive swimmer, but they’re ALLIGATORS. The problem Aja never manages to escape is that there is only so much to be done with material this basic. We’ve seen these moves before. Killer croc movies, lost in the wilderness movies, have done most of what’s on offer here and confining the action largely to a basement and subsequently a house doesn’t make Crawl especially novel.
Aja is nothing if not a proficient filmmaker he marshals the film's effects well and manages to pull out a few nailbiting moments as Haley tries to swim through 'gator infested water. The frustrating thing about Crawl is that it’s not a bad movie, it’s just not an especially good one either. It works through the expected beats, with the grace not to hang around too long, but there’s not a single thing about it that is new or memorable. If you haven't seen one of these for a while, or if you're a fan of the subgenre, it might scratch an itch, but for me that's not enough. I remember the filmmaker who delivered Switchblade Romance, I just wish I believed Alexandre Aja did as well.