A category 5 hurricane bears down on Florida with the entire state in evacuation mode. Fearing for her father, Hayley (Kaya Scodelario) ignores all warnings and drives beyond the road blocks to find him. He is trapped in his cellar with a broken leg and unbeknownst to her, he is surrounded by two enormous alligators. Now stranded together the father and daughter must outsmart an increasing number of vicious man-eaters as water levels rise and time is running out.
It is the familiar story that we've seen time and time again - whether it be people trapped in a supermarket with sharks (Bait) or tourists stuck on a boat surrounded by a crocodile (Rogue) – and yet while exploiting the rules CRAWL also ignores many, dishing up a terrifying 87-minutes of horror the likes of which have scarcely been seen since Jaws shocked us into submission over 40 years ago.
French director Alexandre Aja cements his place amongst the masters of horror with this latest creature feature, returning to the frivolity that he relished with Piranha 3D, while revelling in the riotous suspense that propelled him to fame in Haute Tension. He is fast becoming one of my favourite master-craftsmen and gives cause for celebration with each gnarly treat that he offers.
CRAWL immediately speaks to my love of classic sound-stage exterior set-ups, with the submerged neighbourhood being thrashed by gale force winds, torrential rain and raging waters. It is a glorious production design, which grants Aja complete control over his environment and allows for a larger than life backdrop of impending horror. With his story being mostly confined to the crawlspace beneath a house, he has crafted a terrifying tale of survival with little room to move.
Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper share top billing and give wholehearted performances under gruelling circumstances. Both of them understand the genre and what it takes to hold their audience by the throat. Their rapport is sincere, allowing them moments of dramatical depth during their desperate bid to overcome their prehistoric adversaries.
Director Aja refuses to keep his monsters hidden in the murky depths and he brings them to life with impressive CGI, augmented with practical design. His gators thrash, chomp and tear their way across the screen without pause, making for one of the year's most intense and thrilling movie-going experiences. Much can also be said for a music design that goes unnoticed, and I struggle to recall any of its cues. This is to the credit of Max Aruj and Steffen Thum, whose score is so integrated with the horror that it all blends into one horrific exercise of endurance.
See CRAWL on the big screen if you can, and hope for a large audience. To be in the clutch of a master is akin to being at the mercy of a rollercoaster. It is a scary, thrilling and entirely fun adventure of a movie that you will want to line up and ride again... and again!