Wednesday 4 August 2021

On demand: "Crawl"

Right through to an unimprovable closing image and end-credits song, Crawl represents one of the stronger recent examples of that minimal-actors-one-location cycle the studios engineered in the wake of the 2008 market crash and the budget cuts it occasioned. (The blueprint was laid down by Rodrigo Cortés's Buried from 2010, which entombed Ryan Reynolds in a coffin; it was built upon by Jaume Collet-Serra's 2016 entry The Shallows, which stranded Blake Lively - Mrs. Reynolds, coincidentally enough - on a rock surrounded by sharks.) This time round, in a film produced by Sam Raimi for the French genre specialist Alexandre Aja to direct, we get a post-Katrina variant: British TV graduate Kaya Scoledario is the promising college swimmer who finds herself trapped in the crawlspace beneath her family home as a hurricane blows into Florida and a family of giant, hungry CG alligators are tempted out of the sewers. Ridiculous, of course, and you'll do well to suppress a snort as the first of the film's cold-blooded antagonists lazily ambles into shot, having just called his agent to establish why it is he hasn't got higher billing than either Scoledario or Barry Pepper as the hapless dad our heroine finds unconscious while scrabbling around on her hands and knees in the dark. Yet the whole has points in its favour besides.

For one thing, Aja - like Collet-Serra - grew up far enough away from Hollywood not to get into the modern multiplex movie's bad habits around onscreen space, carefully and economically described in the course of Crawl's patient first act. Screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen add an extra element of tension in that this basement is slowly filling up with stormwater, each droplet tipping the odds in favour of those damn reptiles. And crucially Aja - who first seized arthouse audiences' attention with 2003's merciless slasher Switchblade Romance before launching his American career with his surprisingly effective 2006 update of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes - isn't afraid of threat or grue: he's pitching for an R rating rather than the commercial copout of a PG-13, and when the snappers attack, they do so hard, fast and nasty. In retrospect, you might wonder how little the American mainstream has moved on since Jaws, whether its foremost creatives have merely been paid vast sums just to tread water for the best part of 40 years. On a scene-by-scene basis, however, Crawl has been assembled with skill and force enough to make for excellent, properly cathartic Friday or Saturday night entertainment. The character business - of an estranged father and daughter swimming towards reconciliation - is sappy until it's affecting; and those early, derisory snorts should turn to chuckles and cheers as Pepper attempts to brain an alligator with a housebrick and split the fucker's jaw with a shovel.

Crawl is now streaming on Netflix.

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