Home / Entertainment / Move over, Jaws clones — Crawl is here to claim the summer movie season for the reptiles

Move over, Jaws clones — Crawl is here to claim the summer movie season for the reptiles

Photo: Paramount Pictures



Kaya Scodelario , Barry Pepper


Theaters everywhere July 1


Fifty years after Steven Spielberg made a whole nation afraid to go in the water, sharks still prowl the summer movie season. Jaws will descend upon multiplexes during the warmest season – next month brings teeth and ominous fins of 47 Meters Down sequel. But flesh-eating fish don't have a monopoly on the aquatic horror business. Crawl which shimmies ravenously into theaters today, invites less represented but arguably just as deadly predator to the summer feeding frenzy: the mighty alligator, cold-blooded killing machine of the bay and the scourge of riverboat gamblers everywhere . If the log-like reptile menu does not exist on the public domain as consistently as the shark does, this no-frills, claustrophobic creature feature suggests that maybe it should.

Granted, there are only so many places that foolish skinny-dipper might slip into the maw of a fortunate gator, which is why Crawl is set in Florida, a natural habitat of this real-life monster. As its title teases, most of the movie takes place in a crawlspace, the bottom level of a Sunshine State house rocked by adverse weather. Trapped in this treacherously cramped basement, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is a college swim champion, who has recently joined divorced father, Dave (Barry Pepper), unconscious and injured in the depths of the property. The culprits: hungry, oversized alligators, slinking around in the darkness. They're not all this besieged family unit has to worry about. A Category 5 hurricane is bearing down hard on the area, slowly flooding the house and blocking escape routes.

The director, Alexandre Aja, has found danger in the drink before. A decade ago, he knocked out an outrageously gory 3D remake of Joe Dante's Piranha putting a bunch of nubile spring-breakers on the menu. Crawl does not skimp on the carnage — those rows of snapping teeth do their bloody damage to vulnerable appendages. But this is no jokey splatterfest. Aja, a French merchant of horror who rarely repeats himself, has made a slender survival thriller instead. The bare-bones plot unfolds as a series of nerve-shredding objectives: get to the phone, grab the radio, open the hatch, reach the boat. Space, queasily limited within the single setting, becomes an X factor in the human-versus-nature struggle; Haley and Dave might be perilously stuck in a perpetual crouch, but also sometimes saved by the close quarters, at their ability to scramble through tight spots and bend in their scaly adversaries can't.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Produced by Evil Dead Crawl is dumb genre fun, but it's not too dumb. The gators, convincingly summoned from the digital gene pool, are even cunning at the standards of this sneak-attack species — they know just when to keep their lifts and growls for a well-timed jump scare. But they're not too big or too unstoppable or too intelligent; you would not confuse them for escapees from the Deep Blue Sea laboratory. The humans, meanwhile, don't make blatantly stupid decisions just to move the plot along or thrust themselves into further danger. They do walk off an awful lot of serious injury, even managing to hold their respective ends of conversations while holding their gaping wounds / stumps. (Those hoping for some gnarly kills will be relieved to hear that Crawl supplies plenty of expendable supporting characters, including some unlucky rescue workers and a trio of thieves ransacking a flooded gas station across the street. allow Aja to play with distance and background action in devious ways.) [about19659012] But about those conversations. If any one thing holds back this modest, it really made potboiler from true B-movie glory, it's the human drama. The script, by brothers Michael and Shawn Rasumssen ( The Ward ), presents Haley and Dave's battle against the elements as a therapeutic ordeal, endured in the symbolically subterranean space of the old family house. Will the two escape not just the hungry ones but also the resentment that is forced to wedge between them over the years? Will dad's tough-love encouragement, doled out in flashbacks to the days when he was still Haley's swimming coach, come in handy during the experience? It's pure formulaic pap, but then, so were the emotional motivations of The Shallows and The Meg . Shark or gator, no leviathan can compete with the deadliness of a tortured family backstory.

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