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2018 was a disappointing year for me. A lot of letdowns regarding my most anticipated movies, and not enough surprises throughout the year. 2019, on the other hand, has been quite interesting. Most blockbusters have resonated with me, and they’ve been my favorite films to watch so far (Avengers: Endgame, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, Us, Glass). Additionally, original low-budget flicks have also caught my eye, and I’ve been enjoying them as well, even if they’re no masterpieces (Greta, Long Shot). Although, I had some bad experiences as well (Dark Phoenix, Hellboy, Godzilla: King of the Monsters).
Crawl, which I honestly expected just to be a cliche-filled silly horror movie, joins this last group, and it’s on par with Long Shot as the best surprise of 2019, until now. First of all, this is not a typical horror film, at least having in mind the last few examples of the genre. People might go in expecting something along the lines of Annabelle Comes Home, but with alligators, so I might as well moderate those thoughts. I wouldn’t even place it in that genre, even though disaster-horror isn’t exactly a bad description. It’s definitely a suspense movie, almost like a survival-thriller. Haley and Dave have to fight for their lives in a race against both a hurricane and fatal predators, so I wouldn’t generally put this in the horror genre. Moving on …
I love this type of films, you know that. Suspenseful, claustrophobic sequences, straightforward plot, and set in (mostly) just one location. You might think that since it’s only one place to shoot and it’s such a simple concept, it’s easier overall, but it couldn’t be more distant from the truth. With high-budget, multiple-location movies, directors and screenwriters can hide their technical flaws with tremendous VFX or huge set pieces. In one location, especially such a small one like a modest house, there’s no hiding. If you want to deliver an entertaining and captivating story, you have to write an enthralling screenplay. If you want to provide scary and efficient jump scare scenes, you need to show some creativity and prove you’re a talented filmmaker.
Alexandre Aja, who doesn’t exactly has a remarkable filmography, showcases that even with such a simplistic and short idea, it’s possible to be as or more fun than a massive blockbuster. Less than 20 minutes into the film, and we’re on. There’s enough backstory and characterization of the main protagonist for the audience to not only care about Haley but understand what skills she has that will help her survive what comes next. I love small details like zooming in on her locking a door, closing a window, moving a piece of furniture … Every shot has meaning because it will affect the plot later on. Aja is not shooting something “just because”, and that’s a skill that a lot of directors struggle to have nowadays since they feel that the runtime needs to be close to the two-hour mark.
After so many dumb, cliche, and horribly performed jump scare sequences in previous horror flicks from this year, I finally got to watch a movie where the director knows how to truly scare people, and make them jump out of their chairs. There are no loud soundtrack noises to make you screech. There are no demons or monsters in front of the screen, screaming like crazy. I was at the edge of my seat for more than a couple of times, and I genuinely got scared on some particular moments, where the surprise factor (Aja doesn’t follow the cheap timings of most horror scenes) and the creativity behind the camera were top notch.
Obviously, the VFX and overall production design aren’t mind-blowing. The alligators look pretty real, and that was the main goal, so mission accomplished. Also, being Rated-R helps the film to deliver great alligator attacks with tons of blood, and the injuries our characters have to deal with are pretty gnarly and disgusting (that’s a compliment). Filming in water is extremely hard, especially in such a confined space. However, Aja and his crew were able to produce a movie where you can understand everything that’s going on for the entire runtime.
Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper deliver great performances and show amazing chemistry. Their characters have enough development, even if they don’t have that imaginative scripts. Crawl is one of those films where I can’t point out a preeminent issue with it because it’s good at every aspect. I mean, sure, there are a couple of rare moments of extreme survival, where we might think “he/she should be dead”, but it’s such a fun and entertaining time at the theater that we can let go of one or two over-the-top scenes. It’s not like The Meg, where every single moment is unrealistic as hell. The success of the fictional part of a fiction movie depends on its realistic foundation and limits. If these aren’t well-established, then the film will be all over the place, and its viewers won’t know what to believe or not.
All in all, Crawl is one of 2019’s best surprises, and I definitely recommend to see it in theaters. With compelling leads and a simple concept, Alexandre Aja delivers an entertaining, suspenseful, claustrophobic, and technically creative movie. Finally, someone who knows how to handle a camera, and provide genuinely scary jump scare sequences. Hopefully, this can catapult Kaya Scodelario to grab a bigger role on a more impactful film. I can’t point out any “flaws”, it’s simply a “good movie”. With such a low-budget, give a chance to this one, and watch it instead of a massive blockbuster that will probably leave you disappointed with the numerous cliches and the extreme focus on silly action or huge set pieces as a replacement for a good story. Good job, Paramount!