'Crawl' Review: Killer Gators Go Gaga In This Gory, Mostly Enjoyable B-Movie

A congregation of hungry gators are on the hunt in CrawlAlexandre Aja's gory B-movie that doesn't quite want to admit it's a B-movie. Moving at a brisk pace, and trimmed of almost all fat, Crawl manages to make a big splash, generating plenty of disaster-movie-meets-monster-movie chills. Yet Crawl is a film with an identity crisis. It's not quite trashy enough to be an amusing B-movie, and one can't help but think that Aja is taking all of this killer alligator stuff way too seriously. That's not to say there isn't fun to be had.

Crawl opens with Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) diving into a body of water and swimming for her life. She's not up against gators, yet. She's just practicing for a swim meet. She's an ace swimmer – so good at cutting through water that she's scored herself a scholarship. But she's also plagued with self-doubt, and in the middle of a longstanding argument with her father, and former coach, Dave (Barry Pepper).

As soon as swim practice ends, Haley learns of a hurricane barreling down on Florida – where she lives. Her father lives in Florida too, and no one has been able to get ahold of him to make sure he's safe. So Haley jumps in her SUV and heads down to dad's place, grumbling along the way. After some detours, she locates Dave – bloody in the crawlspace of the old family home. Dave has a compound fracture of his leg, and a big bite mark on his shoulder. What caused that bite mark? Well, you see, Dave and Haley aren't alone in the quickly flooding crawlspace. A whole bunch of alligators are down there, too. And they're hungry.

That's the entirety of Crawl's plotting. It's a lean, mean, mostly efficient machine – when it's focusing on gator gore. Anytime the movie stops to have Haley and Dave have a heart-to-heart, things drag. This sort of human drama mixed with monster mayhem works great in a Steven Spielberg movie – because it's being directed by Steven Spielberg. Alexandre Aja is a talented filmmaker, but he's no Spielberg. He probably would've been better served cutting out all that drama, and adding more alligator mayhem.

Sure, the early set-up material pays off later. Haley's swimming prowess enables her to swim away from the beasts. And her turbulent relationship with her old man peppers some emotional moments. But we don't want to see that when watching Crawl. If we want to mix character work with animal attacks, we'll watch JawsCrawl isn't Jaws, not by a long-shot. But it is entertaining.

Aja, who helmed the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, among others, has a good eye for composition, and manages to pepper some creative shots throughout the film: a gator attack glimpsed through a warped convenience store mirror; an overhead shot of alligators tearing a man apart; light reflecting and shimmering on the faces of the characters up from the ever-rising water. It looks great – but the artistic visuals never quite match the rough-and-tumble subject matter.

A huge chunk of Crawl is trapped in that dark, dank crawlspace, and while it's plenty claustrophobic, it's not very engaging. The movie really opens up when Haley and Dave get out of the basement and get into the flooding house, and beyond. Here Aja gets to play with several wonderful set-pieces as characters have to swim down hallways, or crash boats through bay windows. Along the way, other hapless humans show up to help – and quickly become gator food.

Scodelario and Pepper have a good rapport with one another – we buy their familial relationship easily. Scodelario also makes for an empathetic lead – she's tough in a believable, human way. She can take care of herself, even against a shitload of alligators. It's a very physical performance – tons of swimming, shouting, punching, bleeding. It looks exhausting.

As far as modern monster movies go, Crawl mostly delivers. It's frequently brutal, but you want it to get even more brutal. The gators are perfect villains – unsympathetic, monstrous creatures who want nothing more than to devour in alarmingly violent ways. But the film is so small-scale – there are about six characters, total – that there's not enough gator violence to spread around. You might find your inner bloodlust craving more hapless idiots to show up at the flooding house, just so the alligators can chomp on them...but it's not to be. Oh well – there's always Crawl 2: See You Later, Alligator.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10