Crawl (2019): More thrilling than scary but nevertheless engaging and entertaining

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Tanmay Shukla

There is a certain voyeuristic pleasure in watching a film such as Crawl. It does not require a genius to figure out the overall narrative design. Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen’s screenplay is neither a very original concept nor it is the most unpredictable. They came up with an original hook and placed it in a tried-and-tested structure and presented it in a tight manner. The strength of Crawl lies in its ability to keep the audience engaged till the very end despite having nothing out of the box, maybe except the alligators. The devil is in the details—it is the manner in which we arrive at the resolution is what makes Crawl an entertaining movie, which director Alexandre Aja deserves much of the credit for.

French filmmaker Alexandre Aja comes from a cinema background. His father is a film director himself and his mother was a film critic. Aja made his first film when he was eighteen. Over the Rainbow, he called it, was nominated for best short film at Cannes. His most famous film is the French horror/slasher High Tension which is popular among horror fans but received mixed response from the critics. However, Mark Holcomb of Village Voice called it "gratifyingly gory and doggedly intellectual" situating it with the horror classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. His journey has been on and off from then onwards, with Piranha 3-D being the only noteworthy film he made since High Tension. Nevertheless, it is about to change as Crawl is unarguably Aja's best movie in almost a decade.

Crawl is about a father-daughter duo who are stuck in their basement because of a hurricane with their life in danger and nowhere to go. There is more to the plot than the action, climax and resolution. There's another conflict that adds a new layer to the story and dimension to the characters of daughter and father. Haley and her father, Dave, do not share the most enviable bond between a father and a daughter. “I know you”, Dave says. “You don’t know anything about me.” Haley replies.There's a reason why they don't. Both were always trying to impress the other at the expense of their own happiness. Haley was an athlete short on confidence, Dave was a father who could never express his love. “I was selfish. It has nothing to do with you.”He says about his divorce.Both were lonely and miserable, and thus, the perfect companions in this situation to survive today and live for tomorrow. “You and Beth (Haley’s elder sister) kept us together. Your mom got a second chance”, Dave says.When their sharp-toothed enemy were at bay, Haley and Dave opened up to each other. “You remember when you were little? I saw you in the pool at 2 AM taking giant breaths. That’s when I knew this kid is a fighter.”He replies. These brief, personal exchanges provide a peek into their lives and made me care more about their survival. Both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper give a fine performance as Haley and Dave. What started with mixed feelings turned into a bond that can never be broken. “I am coming back for you”, she says. “You better”, her father replies.

The cinematographer Maxime Alexandre establishes a high contrast visual template from the outset. The colour that stands out in particular is green, the dark kind owing to the season and geography. There aren't many ultra-wide, sweeping shots which is in vogue in recent years but we do get to see quite a bit of the sky from many below eye-level shots. The sky is always gray and ominous throughout the film which unfolds in a single day. The dark clouds are in a striking contrast with the vibrant greenery. The cool, greenish colour tone in torrential rain and hurricane does draw attention to itself, however it successfully sets the mood for the rest of the film to follow. Also, the visual effects are convincing. Everything looks believable when it comes to visual effects and it is hard to distinguish between what's real and what's not.

The music by Max Aruj and Steffen Thum works to the film's advantage. The atmospheric compositions are used selectively but not sparingly. Whenever there is a moment of imminent danger or an action sequence, the music is ramped up while at other times the ambiance takes over which builds up the tension and atmosphere. Each little sound, like the alligator's bellow, the continuous rain and thunder, and the radio announcement--all of these sounds together negate the need for a continuous background score while allowing the audience an intimate experience of the impossible situation. It is this rich, detailed sound design that makes you feel like you're right there in the basement of Keller's house.

Haley and Dave are able to escape the confines of the basement (crawl space) at the right time as I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic. To see them outside the housetrying to escape the wrath of alligators only to find out that they are everywhereis a small but an important decision that keeps the ante up.

Fittingly, Crawl ends with Bill Haley's famous 1950s rock and roll song ‘See You Later, Alligator’. It is quite unnerving indeed, in a weird way like a slap in the face. Throughout the movie, man is battling against nature for his survival. As Haley stands up on the roof of the house holding a torch like the statue of liberty, the closure is only appropriate while the film congratulates itself on the ride it took the audience for.

Rating: 6/10

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