It takes a lot of talent to make good schlock. On paper, “Crawl” seems to have it all. Director Alexandre Aja has made some genuinely scary movies (“The Hills Have Eyes“) and some scarily funny movies (“Piranha 3D“). With producer Sam Raimi, the guru behind gross out horror comedy, what could go wrong? Both of them must’ve taken a long lunch break while “Crawl” was filming. The movie looks and feels like a rejected animatronic segment of the Universal Studios Backlot tour. While the look and feel of a town under siege by a hurricane appears fun, the movie retains none of that.
Kaya Scodelario plays Haley Keller, a woman whose personality is just merely swimmer. She travels into the eye of a hurricane at the behest of her sister to check on their Dad, Dave (Barry Pepper), who hasn’t answered his phone. Despite multiple warnings, Haley travels further and further into the storm looking for her father. The film uses 20 of its 87 minute run time to lay on a thin backstory involving divorce. Nonetheless, it’s all just fodder until the water starts pouring and the alligators start feeding.
Yes, the characters aren’t why people come to see a horror movie about alligator attacks. It doesn’t matter that Scodelario fails to build a character out of a person whose only line is shouting “Dad!” into the void. It doesn’t matter that Pepper never fully checks out as a dad who was an overbearing swim coach to his daughter. All that matters are the chills and thrills. Once the first alligator makes its triumphant and boisterous entrance, the movie should get going. We may have wasted 20 minutes on superfluous backstory, but now it’s going to be a solid hour of gator antics, jump scares and summer fun. Much like a firework, that alligators entrance was a big pop, followed by an epically long fizzle. The movie never makes good on its potentially fun premise.
Most of the movie takes place in an underground crawl space where Haley finds her Dad immobilized after a crocodile attack. This cripples the movie much in the same way it does its characters. Remaining stuck in this crawl space relieves the movie of any tension around its main characters. The alligators swim around, while Haley and Dave cower. We see shots of bones sticking out, various lacerations and any other sort of PG-13 level gore to make us jump. Still, nothing actually happens.
Instead, the central hour of the film finds Haley peering out of the titular “Crawl” space as other nearby Floridians meet the same fate. One of the most inspired bits involves a group of gas station marauders who use the hurricane as an excuse to steal twinkies, hot dogs and even an ATM. These are the types of nonsensical flourishes and Florida oddities that “Crawl” should give its audience. There could be tremendous fun in sending gators from a gator farm out in a community being hit by a hurricane. Early on in the film, Haley asks one of the evacuators if they were going to have a “hurricane party.” We were robbed of a scene of these hungry, hungry gators feasting on a “hurricane party” full of eccentric characters.
Director Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha 3D” was one of the most fun summer outings at the movies when it was released in 2010. It was dumb, bloody, funny and – most of all – self aware. “Crawl” doesn’t seem aware of much, including the gators swimming around the characters. It doesn’t matter that many of the set pieces don’t make sense. The script makes logic leaps quite often in order to put Haley face to face with another gator. Instead, the movie’s greatest failing is that it lacks even an ounce of fun.