Film reviews

FrightFest 2019 – Crawl

In the 13 years since he did such a superb job of remaking The Hills Have Eyes – widely regarded as one of the best of the recent horror reinventions – director Alexandre Aja has had a steady stream of good-to-excellent horror films hit cinemas around the world. Born of the early 2000’s New French Extremity movement of horror and stamping his name on the genre with his gruesome, brilliant Haute Tension, Aja has a talent for making brilliantly gory horror films that are unapologetically fun for the viewer.  With audience pleasing greats like Horns and Piranha 3D under his belt, the French director is teaming up with Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi and jumping back into the water for Crawl.

When a near apocalyptic hurricane hits Florida, most of the sane people turn tail and run from the incoming wind, rain and inevitable floods. Not one heroic young woman. Concerned about her missing father, Haley (Kaya Scodelario – The Maze Runner) ignores the evacuation orders and heads to his apartment to find him.

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After running around the state, Haley finds her dad (Barry Pepper – Saving Private Ryan) badly hurt in the tight crawlspace below the old family house, and father and daughter find themselves trapped as the flood waters begin to rise and cut them off from the rest of the world. All too quickly it becomes dangerously clear that the water isn’t the only thing the penned in pair have to worry about, as the rising rain water gives a couple of very large and extremely hungry alligators the freedom to roam wherever they like.

Alexandre Aja has a knack of making anything, even the seemingly benign, truly scary. For Crawl, the director has taken one of the most fearsome animals ever to roam the earth – literal dinosaurs – in a pair of giant alligators and set them on a collision course with two people and their dog who just aren’t equipped to deal with them. You would think that would give the Switchblade Romance director the opportunity to just sit back, relax and let the natural terror that these animals bring do all the talking. But you would be wrong.

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Aja takes everything he knows, and everything he’s learned, and doesn’t give the audience a second to catch their breath. The well-worn tropes are putty in the director’s hands as every new scenario gives way to a new scary solution. You think you’re safe behind those pipes? You’re going to drown if you stay there. You need that phone? We dare you to try for it. The magic in horror films isn’t always in creating something new, it’s the ability to take those story beats you know and force an audience’s heart rate up moments after they’ve rolled their eyes because they think they’ve seen it all before.

Kaya Scodelario, in her first role in a scary film, picks up the torch handed her by so many great heroic women in horror and stands proud as a future star of the genre. She gets herself beaten up, has chunks literally bitten out of her and keeps fighting while audiences will be rooting for her without even trying. Crawl is a tight film with a large scope, and a cast of only a handful have to be at their best because there are few others on screen with them to pick up the slack. Scodelario does a more than impressive job carrying her co-stars – sometimes literally – along for the ride and proving you don’t need to be some lovesick woman running around in her undies to be a spectacular presence on screen. If she wants it, there is a bright future in horror for the English actress.

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Her co-stars, the enormous alligators that seem intent on eating everybody dumb enough to be in the area during a hurricane – a not so subtle hint that we, as a species, probably shouldn’t be thinking Mother Nature is just another thing for us to beat – are without question the scariest antagonists in a mainstream horror film since Samara innocently crawled out of a TV and started stealing souls in Ringu. Top-notch CGI lends an air of terror that is seldom seen in films in this sub-genre; especially ones that get this wide a release. The teaming of director and producer here has brought out some of the best work both have to offer.

Aja has created a horror film more nail-biting than any creature feature has any right to be. Be it The Host, Anaconda, or the filmmaker’s own Piranha remake; Crawl will sit proudly atop the list of best creature features for a long time to come. As pant-wettingly claustrophobic as any horror film could be, Crawl is what happens when you splice the DNA of Alien with all those Asylum mockbusters the SyFy channel makes its money on and let the director of The Hills Have Eyes do his thing.

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