Haley Featured

For awhile now, I have been referring to CRAWL as “that giant gator movie”. It turns out that the gators are, in fact, fairly standard sized. It is just alligators get a lot bigger than I realized. I blame growing up in the Northeast where we have properly cowed our local fauna into knowing their place.

However, it raises a question. If I went in expecting a giant gator movie and only ended up with a regular sized gator movie, could I possibly enjoy the film?

Crawl: Sign
Can’t say they didn’t warn us. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The Idea Behind CRAWL

Haley (Kaya Scodelario) swims at Florida State University and seems to be in a bit of a slump. The same fatherly encouragement that sent her to FSU on a scholarship seems to have driven her away from dear old dad Dave (Barry Pepper). Her parents’ divorce has further complicated things, leaving her prickly to her now New England dwelling older sister Beth (Morfydd Clark), too.

Nonetheless when dad cannot be reached as a category 5 hurricane — named Wendy for the record — threatens to hammer the exact part of the state Dave calls home, Haley hops in her jeep. Violating all good sense and dedication to self-preservation, she tears down the highway toward home. Her plan, I suppose, is just to drag his sad sack north to safety.

However, upon her arrival she finds that dad unresponsive and quite injured. It seems rats and spiders are not the only thing that have decided to take up residence in the crawlspace beneath her childhood home. It has been unofficially annexed as Gator Country. Moreover, this reptilian beast? Hungry.

Crawl: Father Daughter
Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario do some deep water father daughter bonding in a moment from CRAWL. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Writing CRAWL

Given this a July release creature feature, what I am about to say seems an overstatement, but I promise it is not. Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen’s screenplay is tightly plotted and very well-structured. Free of the bloat of that a lot of this summer’s blockbusters have been carrying around with them (GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS, I am looking at you), the film movies. However, it never feels frantic. As a result, at no point does it feel like it missed an opportunity or created some logic hole so big one could take, say, a police boat through it.

Instead, it smartly lays out the pieces — plot, personality, and literal object-wise — in the first twenty or so minutes. Then it proceeds to utilize each of them to great effect. It is literally an all-in movie. Even every shut door carries ramifications down the road.

The script also is efficient. The opening race and conversation with her sister combined with brief flashback given us all we need to understand and connect with Haley. She is not a wildly complex character, granted, but you understand her and she feels real on the page.

A Gator
I heard this gator only got scale in CRAWL. What an industry, amirite? (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Casting the Leads of CRAWL

Look, CRAWL is not the kind of film that requires incredible acting prowess to deliver its story. That said, it is still nice when the actors show up to play and both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper obviously did.

Scodelario brings a great physicality to her Haley, a woman who is clearly more comfortable doing than feeling. There’s an appropriate amount of grit in her work and the few moments she lets her emotions overwhelm her are smart choices. She does not feel invulnerable but competent, not a master strategist, but intelligent and craft. It is a solid heroine performance that does not require her to shriek to be saved nor makes her a feeling-less automaton. Her victories are sweet and her failures hurt because she feels very human to us.

It is odd to see Pepper in the role of a sort of ground down lonely dad of two adult women. For so long, I have associated his best performances with the kind of quick anger and cockiness you expect of young men. However, while CRAWL unfolded, I never found myself thinking of that Pepper, only after. He wears the skin of the weary well and, like Scodelario, he keeps himself insular. Even as he grinds his teeth, moans and screams in pain and fear, it never feels showboat-y or over the top.

Finally, their interactions carry the weight of poolside squabbles and too many ignored phone calls. Their individual performances are strong but how they play off each other is where the movie works best.

Crawl: Shower time
Kaya Scodelario chose a weird time to shower in CRAWL. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Directing CRAWL

Alexandre Aja has largely stuck to horror for the entirety of his career. He delivered HIGH TENSION, a film that — up until its controversial ending at least — wonderfully lived up to its name. He has also been behind the camera for disappointing remakes — THE HILLS HAVE EYES — bland ugly efforts — MIRRORS –and delightful cheese — PIRANHA 3D. Thankfully, in terms of directing prowess, CRAWL lands far more on the TENSION side of the scale.

He makes great use of space. Much in the same way the script lays out everything important with efficiency, he defines the parameters of the largely claustrophobic world well. We know the geography of both the crawlspace and the first floor of the home before gator-fest begins. Then, when it does, every corner, every blind alley, feels that much more dangerous, that much tighter.

He also makes sure the camera reveals everything we need to know. While sometimes obvious — a screwdriver here, a toolbelt there —  each lingered over item will still often deliver surprises.

Crawl: Dave
Barry Pepper has had better days than this one in CRAWL. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

That’s a Wrap

Paramount barely screening CRAWL was a huge mistake. In a summer where the tentpoles have struggled to get a handhold and the season has felt out of gas for weeks — with the exception of FAR FROM HOME — this is exactly the kind of relatively inexpensive to push to people hungry for an excuse to go the multiplex. It would be strong as counterprogramming, but, honestly, last week it would have hit more like just programming.

It is a creature feature that is a credit to its genre. The kind that delivers enough shrieks and thrills to send you home plenty pleased, bouncing on the adrenaline rush.

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