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Crawl stars Kaya Scoledario as Haley, a college student in Florida. Haley is at the University of Florida on a swimming scholarship, and she's struggling. Haley's times are slowing down, and she's worried that she may lose her scholarship. Haley receives a Facetime call from her sister, Beth (Morfydd Clark) asking her about a hurricane that is hovering over Florida.
Somehow Haley hadn't even noticed the weather, far more concerned by her swimming struggles. Beth is worried about their father, Dave (Barry Pepper). Beth has been frantically calling dad to make sure that he had evacuated his south Florida bachelor pad located in a part of the state that is about to be hit hard. His not answering her calls has Beth worried it's too late.
Haley, being stubborn and annoyed by her father and sister, insists on driving down to dad's place to find him and make him leave. The drive is perilous as she is driving into the heart of the storm, but even friendly police that she knows from childhood can't stop Haley from risking her life to get to her dad.
Upon arrival at Dad's sad bachelor pad, Haley finds his dog, but no dad. As it turns out, Dave has gone to their former home not that far away, the place where Haley and Beth grew up, and the last place they'd been together as a family before mom and dad split up. Dave has been fixing the place up to sell while also slowing down the sales process because he can't seem to let go of the memories.
This is most of the first half of Crawl, a lengthy family history of a not all that particularly interesting or unique family. The actors are given very little to play with here, and are not being asked to deliver much more than what is on the page. The backstory is listless and lifeless, and thus so is Crawl for much of the first half of the movie. At a certain point, I became excited for the giant alligators to show up.
Perhaps you are thinking 'of course, that's the trick of the movie.' I wish you were right dear reader, but alas, that's not the case. The fact of Crawl is that the movie is just that listless and mundane. Even after the gators begin to attack, Crawl only gains a minor amount of energy. Most of the movie is dedicated to dimwitted strategizing of a seemingly impossible escape while stacking the odds against the human characters in ways that defy credibility.
The makers of Crawl have no sense of proportionality. The premise isn't bad, trapped in a house filled with water, a father and daughter have to navigate a space occupied by agitated gators, cool, not a bad idea. Unfortunately, director Alexandre Aja has the Gators so out of proportion in danger that we have no room to believe that these human characters could ever survive. The deck is stacked so high against survival for these characters that it becomes almost laughable.
At one point, one of the characters in the film, not the father or daughter, no spoilers, is bitten in half by a gator in appropriately gruesome fashion. Later however, one of the leads is able to survive having the gator chomp down on their arm. Why can a gator cut one character in half with their bite power, but can't take another character's arm? Later in the film one of the characters does have their arm bitten off, in brutal fashion, but they show almost no ill effects from this traumatic injury.
I recognize that main characters in movies have special powers that make them mostly indestructible in movies like Crawl, but it does little for the suspension of disbelief when a movie like Crawl abuses main character powers in a movie that is supposed to have at least a minor grounding in a realistic scenario.
The makers of Crawl seem to want to have their cake and eat it too by including outsized, unbelievable scenes, and a pseudo-realistic setting. They want us to buy into a reality where alligators are hunting humans in a suburban Florida house, but they also want us to believe that these main characters can survive nearly losing limbs while only coming away with a scratch.
Perhaps I am nitpicking, but I don't think I would be complaining about this stuff if Crawl were a better, more effective horror movie. Had director Alexandre Aja actually made a movie that was well paced, suspenseful and shocking, I likely would forgive a little on the believability factor. Unfortunately, so much of Crawl is so dull and listless that I began counting the times the movie took liberties with its own reality.
Worst of all about Crawl is the pacing. For a movie that is only 88 minutes with opening and closing credits, Crawl literally crawls. Crawl feels so much longer than 88 minutes, because the filmmakers have mistaken having nothing happen for significant lengths of time for suspense. Being deliberate is one thing, but stopping dead for a few minutes feels like a lifetime when that time is not filled with solid staging or memorable characters.