“Crawl”, which belatedly arrives in South Korean theaters at the end of this autumn, is a modest but effective genre piece which handles its rather preposterous premise better than expected. Although I could instantly see from the beginning how it was going to jolt and scare me during its 87-minute running time, I often myself quite nervous and terrified, and I came to appreciate more of the skills and efforts put into the film in the end.
During its first 10 minutes, the movie quickly establishes its story promise. When Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario), a student-athlete of the University of Florida, receives a phone call from her older sister living in Boston, she is not exactly in a good mood at all because of her disappointing result in her latest swimming competition, but then her older sister notifies her that their estranged father Dave (Barry Pepper), who has lived alone since his recent divorce, is not answering his phone even though a hurricane of category five is coming upon Florida right now, and she soon drives her car to his current residence for checking for herself whether he is all right.
When Haley arrives at her father’s current residence, she is only greeted by his cute furry dog, so, along with the dog, she drives her car to where he possibly went: their old family house which has been empty and on sale since his divorce. Not long after arriving in the house, she soon discovers several things belonging to her father, and then she comes to check the crawlspace beneath the house after realizing that her father went down there for fixing something.
Although it does not take much time for Haley to find where her father is, she soon comes to see why her father could not get out of the crawlspace. It turns out that more than one alligator came into the crawlspace via a drain duct connected with it, and her father was seriously mauled by one of these alligators, though he managed to drag himself to a corner spot which is safe at least for a while.
Fortunately, Haley also manages to evade the alligators and then join her father, but, of course, the situation gets worse and worse as the hurricane is coming upon their old neighborhood second by second. As the hurricane pours a lot more rain onto the ground, the crawlspace becomes flooded inch by inch, and this certainly makes Haley and her father’s circumstance more perilous than before. They must get out of the crawlspace before getting drowned, but then they may get themselves killed by the alligators, which are indubitably more dangerous when they are moving around in water.
During the following middle act, the movie gradually dials up the level of tension and suspense via a number of good moments packed with dread and anxiety, and director/co-producer Alexandre Aja, who previously made “Piranha 3D” (2010), skillfully handles these moments while showing a little wry sense of humor from time to time. While it goes without saying that several other characters appearing in the middle of the film are destined to be the main course for the alligators sooner or later, their respective exits jolt us as much as intended, and I must say I was particularly shocked and amused by a brief shot showing a minor character’s body being brutally torn apart by the alligators.
And the alligators in the film are frightening enough to hold our attention. Sure, they are CGI creatures which are not that distinguishable from each other, but they function well as lethal and formidable foes for our two main characters, and the movie also did a solid job of accentuating the claustrophobic mood surrounding our two main characters and their ruthless opponents. The stuffy atmosphere surrounding our two main characters is palpable on the screen to say the least, and I also cringed a lot as watching Haley crawling on the very muddy ground of the crawlspace early in the film.
In addition, the movie is carried well by the solid acting of its two lead performers. While Kaya Scodelario, who drew my attention for the first time through her notable supporting turn in “The Maze Runner” (2015) and its two sequels, is believable in several physical action scenes in the film, she and her co-star Barry Pepper are convincing as ably conveying to us the dramatic shifts in their characters’ strained relationship. As recognizing how much her father still cares about her, Haley comes to push herself harder for their possible survival, and we root for her a lot especially when she tries something quite risky in front of an alligator cornering her later in the movie.
Although it does not exceed my expectation, “Crawl” did its job as well as it wants, and the overall result is a bit better than “Piranha 3D”, which was a little too gory and violent for me despite some nice tongue-in-cheek moments to be savored (How can I ever forget what eventually happens to a certain body part of a supporting character played by Jerry O’Connell?). The movie is occasionally rather trite and superficial in terms of story and characterization, but I willingly overlooked that and other several weak points of the film during my viewing, and it surely made me more scared of alligators than before. It is a shame that the movie happens to crawl into South Korea when winter is coming, but summer will come after winter and spring anyway, and I may revisit it around that time just for getting more fun and thrill than before.