The Scariest Scene In Crawl Would Make The Kool-Aid Man Scream

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Matt Donato and Ariel Fisher. In this edition, Matt learns to "Crawl" again and Ariel can't sit still.)

Is there a more terrifying horror subgenre than aquatic horror? I'd argue there isn't. Who are we to understand oceanic depths and pitch-black waters yet to be explored? We can rationalize away zombies and ignore slashers as real-life canon, but shark attacks or anaconda constrictions could happen any day. There's an inescapable quality to movies like "Deep Blue Sea" or "Lake Placid" no matter how ridiculous the setup is because their creatures are based on natural predators. Aquatic horrors are eternal, and that's what makes them so memorable.

Of late, there's been no better aquatic horror flick than Alexandre Aja's "Crawl." Much like "The Shallows," Aja's animated monsters look tremendously lifelike as they pursue targets and cause coastal havoc. There's belligerence to the mayhem that is so violent and carnivorous, unlike what's overtaken mainstream horror appeal. "Crawl" defies the odds from its post-production inserts to animalistic strangleholds on immaculate tension, blending natural disasters with a ferocious brand of horror that respects the intensity of Mother Nature.

The setup

Collegiate swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) leaves practice on the verge of a category five hurricane. The Floridian drives into downpours and blustery winds because her father Dave (Barry Pepper) isn't answering his cellular device. The radio blares warnings about not challenging the devastation that could occur should residents not take the weather seriously. Haley's sister Beth (Morfydd Clark) keeps in contact with her from afar, leaving Dave's well-being in her hands.

Haley first tries checking in on Dave at his bachelor apartment — he's alone, and mom's out of the picture. There's no sign of the handyman, just Dave's adorable doggo. Haley scoops up the pupper and drives back towards their family residence, which should have already been sold to promote moving forward. Instead, Haley finds Dave's truck, his phone upstairs, and signs that he's been tinkering under the house's crawl space. Rainfall keeps pouring, which means she has to locate Dave before conditions become inescapable.

The story so far

Dave's pooch, Sugar, is the one to alert Haley to his possible location in the basement crawl space. Beth's local ex-boyfriend, Wayne (Ross Anderson), now law enforcement, warns Haley to be anywhere but Coral Lake — maybe she should have listened. Haley makes her way into the muddy, cobwebby crawl space and begins trying to locate Dave. She squeezes herself between metal pipes and through tight corridors as we spy ominous, shadowy movements in the background past patterned openings to the outside.

As Haley muddies herself, Dave's radio grows louder. Haley calls for her father while crawling on her hands and knees but hears no response. After finally making her way through manufactured obstacles in the architectural maze, Haley spies Dave unconscious on the ground. She pushes through more muck until she's leaning over her dad, who's still not responding. Haley must jump into action after noticing Dave is bleeding from shoulder wounds that do not look accidental.

The scene

Haley panics as she attempts to snap her father back from unconsciousness. He's still breathing, which is a positive sign. Haley winds her hand-crank flashlight and begins to plan the duo's exit.

Haley's unable to drag Dave in his paperweight state, given his limp body's inability to react. She finds a tarp and decides that's their method of escape. She's able to tape together a makeshift sled that permits Dave's easy transportation, like a wounded soldier on a battlefield. He's dead to the world, but Haley won't let him expire just yet.

Haley acts with more haste, recognizing Dave's condition. She maneuvers around the same iron chutes that cause blockages between pathways. Sugar barks down the main staircase, still keeping guard. Haley gets closer and closer to her escape, dragging Dave like a corpse but not yet giving up hope. She's so close to the wooden steps that lead to salvation, then BAM!

Just as Haley approaches the home's easy way out, an alligator — presumably the one who mauled her father — smashes through the wooden staircase like its cardboard. Pieces go flying, and Haley jolts onto her backside. The gator growls, signaling a chase as Haley hastily pulls Dave back to safety behind plumbing pipes that cross throughout the labyrinthine crawl space.

The impact (Ariel's take)

"Crawl" is one of those movies that turns me into a human jumping bean. I'm super reactive to scares at the best of times, but some movies just keep me flush on the edge of my seat the entire time. Next to "47 Meters Down," "Crawl" is one of the only movies that not only keeps me on the edge of my seat but has me standing and pacing for its entire runtime.

I'm not kidding.

Up until this moment, Alexandre Aja's just been cranking a Jack-in-the-Box, and the alligator bursting out from under the stairs is the sadistic release. Instead of giving the audience permission to breathe again, it marks the start of unending and truly unpredictable tension.

The visual cues are so subtle that you might have to watch the movie a second or third time (or fourth, because it's just that good) to pick up on all of them. Like how the light shines through the tiles under the stairs at first glance, and then as Haley's nearly there, they've suddenly ... gone dark. There's little other movement or hint that this is coming other than the fact that we're clearly being set up for a jump scare. The question is when it'll strike and how?

The music swells as is the norm, the beat growing steadily faster like a panicked heart rate combined with anxiety-inducing crescendos. But then it eases up. The score tricks us into a false sense of security despite the fact that all of our other senses are screaming "DANGER!" It plays with our expectations of the genre, that the jump scare comes at or just before the crescendo, and instead hits the release valve before the tension has actually been relieved, leaving us in a painfully stressed position.

That's one of the best things about "Crawl," really — it constantly surprises you. It follows some of the patterns we've become familiar with, for sure. But it also uses those expectations against us to create a genuinely thrilling experience, time and time again. I've seen this movie at least four or five times by now, and each and every time I'm just as terrified as the first. I spend the duration either standing and pacing or perched on my feet in a weird squat position on the couch. There is no way to sit comfortably while watching "Crawl," because from this specific moment until the very end, it just does not stop. 

This scene gets the ball rolling, and sets the expectation for what's coming: unyielding tension and ruthless terror.