When one thinks of great monster predator films, Jaws, with its layered tension and iconic cinematography comes to mind. Since then, many films of that genre have tried and failed to imitate its success. Director Alexandre Aja’s Crawl attempts to dethrone the almighty Great White with a slew of gargantuan alligators but fails to live up to the legacy.
The answer to an iconic monster isn’t more monsters or even more conflicts; it’s more tension. Yet Crawl features multiple alligators (and some baby spawn too) tracking two injured family members who are trapped in the confines of a basement during a hurricane. It’s a Jenga tower built to fall.
Unlike other films that successfully showcase a shattering tension with a slow build, the conflict in this film is so dense, so desperately grasping at any straw it can get its hands on, that the audience has no time to even anticipate it. Tension should be bred from contradictions such as night and day or holiday celebrations and death. Instead of varied images and tones, Crawl gives us the same one over and over: alligators swirling in a dark, dank basement. And as a result, we get the same jump scare again and again with each clamp of a gator jaw on bone or the near miss of one.
It would have been better if the additional conflicts in Crawl, such as the rising floodwater in the basement, were highlighted in a more conscious and deliberate way. But it seems for time’s sake, we immediately go from no water to “we have one hour until we’re underwater.”
A suspenseful musical score is something the film could’ve used to its advantage. Crawl showed potential in its trailers because of its unique score and utilization of a paranoid uptick of water dripping on pipes, which felt eerie and intriguingly unheard of before. Yet, it is strangely missing from the actual movie. Most likely, it would’ve become either lost within the incessantly loud banging on pipes with wrenches to distract the alligators or buried under the torrential downpour of the hurricane. But the end result proves that such a score could have gone a long way.
One of the brighter aspects of the film is its acting, particularly by Kaya Scodelario. She portrays Haley, a collegiate swimmer with a shaky relationship with her father (Barry Pepper). She is also the camel carrying the weight of this film. From evading, fighting, and tricking alligators to salvaging wounds and communicating familial dysfunction to her absentee father, Scodelario does almost all the physical and emotional legwork with relative ease. She can act; it is just as apparent now as it was when, as a teenager, she impressed audiences in Skins (U.K.).
Scodelario’s scrappy attempts at heroism only elevate the film slightly above cheap fare such as Sharknado. Ultimately, Crawl lacks a formative, cinematic understanding of tension. Jaws seems to have written the book on the subject, but Crawl throws it out the window.