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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, July 26, 2019

Critic's Corner: Blown away by intense, well-made thriller ‘Crawl’




After watching “Crawl,” I took a deep, relaxing breath and stepped out of the theater and into sunshine. I was glad to be outside, away from hurricane winds, rising water and monsters that ruthlessly pursue their next meal.

While effects-laden blockbusters have jaded viewers, occasionally, a film will come out that’s so intense and immersive, it affects us physically. “The Walk,” a movie about a high-wire artist’s perilous trek between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, was such a creation. So is “Crawl.”

Somehow, the film sidestepped my “It’s only a movie” defenses and held me in a tight, unrelenting grip until the credits rolled.

If this were the kind of column movie studios mined for quotes, then “’This is the last hurricane movie you’ll ever need to see’ – The Hamilton County Herald” would be sprawled across the top of the poster for “Crawl.”

It would be a compliment. Hollywood has given us many epic weather disaster films packed with shots of entire cities being digitally erased and giant waves crashing over thousands of victims.

But “Crawl” focuses on a father and daughter’s attempt to escape a single house as a hurricane rages outside and giant alligators hunt them down within the sodden structure.

By reducing the scale and never straying far beyond these self-imposed boundaries, “Crawl” is a better, more entertaining film than “The Day After Tomorrow” and its ilk.

The storm is already raging by the time Haley Keller arrives at her Florida hometown and circumvents an evacuation to locate her father, Dave Keller, who isn’t answering his cellphone. (I had to look up his name since the daughter spends most of the film screaming, “Dad!”)

Before long, she’s located him in the underbelly of his house – a dripping, muddy, ramshackle maze of pipes, wires and wooden beams – where he’s lying unconscious after a gator attack.

After Haley revives him, they tackle the urgent task of escaping the basement before they drown or are eaten alive.

“Crawl” is a trim 87 minutes, so director Alexandre Aja has precious little time for character development. Fortunately, he uses this time well to ensure viewers care about what happens to Haley and her dad.

Clips of the dad coaching Haley in a swimming competition, family photos and a brief image of growth marks on a wall do the heavy lifting in this department, creating a sense of a loving but sometimes contentious relationship between parent and child.

Shots of Haley cutting through pool water like a dolphin during swim practice suggest she might have what it’s going to take to outswim the creatures.

Then again, they’re huge. And fast. And seemingly insatiable, with massive, incisor-rimmed mouths that can snap shut like a mousetrap and swallow a limb whole.

The special effects, which I’m assuming involved a combination of prosthetics and computer animation, are very convincing. So is the way the actors interact with the creatures. During the film’s many scrapes between man and nature, I never once thought, “Gosh, that alligator looks fake,” or, “Geez, the animation sure is stiff.”

Rather, the beautifully rendered creatures move with the kind of agility that helps viewers suspend their disbelief.

So, why is “Crawl” such a visceral experience? The tight confines, which force the audience into close proximity with the characters, helps. So do the sets, which surely were built in a studio but look and feel like a real house that’s sturdy but taking a beating.

I also liked the way Aja and his writers continually ratchet up the danger and suspense until the hurricane, the floodwaters, the house and the alligators collectively seem like another set of jaws that are closing in on Haley and her dad.

Finally, the editing and camerawork conspire to ground the viewer one moment and then throw them into chaos the next.

“Crawl” does suffer from a few lapses in logic. Haley and her dad often go where no sane person would or make risky choices. While this could be attributed to the urgency of their situation, I’m not sure how to explain away the lack of blood loss from deep gouges or the way broken bones and flesh wounds have limited impact on a person’s mobility.

Whatever. The action in “Crawl” is too engaging and I was too invested in the outcome to let those things take me out of the movie.

Despite my jangled nerves, I had fun watching “Crawl.” In fact, it was so good, it just might be the last hurricane movie I ever need to see.