In this world there is a small clutch of movie that can be termed as ‘survivalist horror’. Of course you could argue that any horror film is based around the goal of survival, but I am referring to the films where the horror stems from something natural, a part of our planet. Only four years ago we had The Shallows, a film that centred around a young woman fighting for her life against a great white shark, leaving her stranded and alone among the elements of the monster’s natural habitat.
I detested The Shallows, I found the story weak and the action melodramatic and stupid, and I also found that the film was somewhat detached due to the setting and environment. And in many ways, it could be said that 2019’s Crawl, is the spiritual sister to The Shallows, both focus on a woman associated with some form of aquatic sport, both revolve around that woman having to survive some predatory creature, both films are rampant in tension and atmosphere and both were directed by notable horror directors. However, in this grand comparison, I would say that Crawl accomplishes so much more and that certain elements in the film help to elevate it to a higher standard. But don’t get me wrong, both films are pretty ridiculous in their own right, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fun!
Crawl focuses on an athletic swimmer named Hayley, who has a strained relationship with her father and ex-swimming coach, Dave. During a hurricane, Hayley goes to find her father at their old family home, only to discover that it has become the nest of some pretty ravenous alligators. With the flood waters rising and the town being evacuated, Hayley and her father have to outwit the monstrous lizards if they hope to survive.
The plot may seem basic and really, it is, but it also accomplishes everything that it promises to, which is definitely something that goes in the film’s favour. The film also takes on a gritty, dirty and albeit slimy feel, something that probably stems from director Alexandre Aja, whose previous films have also been notable for their gore and rawness. In some ways you could argue that this film holds a lot of similarity to his masterpiece, Haute Tension, in that it is also a film that turns to domestic home environment into a deadly war zone. And that it something that makes the film so unsettling, that the gators are inside the house, that this is not a film which sets itself within the actual swamps of Florida. Instead it all takes place within a house, a place that we as humans often view as safe. It makes the film into almost a home invasion story and it helps to add to the uncomfortable and surreal nature of the story.
Of course a film like this does not need strong performances to get the job done, but the core cast of this film is amazing, with Kaya Scodelario holding the whole gory thing together. Her performances ranges so much in so little time, one minute she’s crying in her father’s arms, and the next she’s stabbing an alligator in the eye, if this film does not warrant her more high profile work in the future then that will be a shame because she has now proven that she can be the leading lady.
But for it does right, the film does suffer in some areas. The first part of the movie takes place within the crawlspace beneath the house, making it feel claustrophobic and enclosed. However, the action eventually makes its way to the rest of the house and even the street outside, robbing the film of the tension it previously had. And, much like The Shallows, this film does start to feel repetitive by the end of the second act, making you wonder just how unlucky this father and daughter truly are.
Overall the film does what it sets out to do, it doesn’t ask any big questions, nor does it present the audience with a confused cloud of complicated themes. It’s the story of a woman who survives a bunch of alligators invading her waterlogged home, and if you want anything else from it, then maybe this film isn’t the one for you!