[Screen It]


(2019) (Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A young woman must contend with alligator attacks while trapped inside a flooded house with her injured dad during a raging hurricane.
Haley Keller (KAYA SCODELARIO) is a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville where she's a competitive swimmer, having once been coached by her dad, Dave (BARRY PEPPER), until he and her mom split up, and Haley hasn't seen him in a while. But when her sister, Beth (MORFYDD CLARK), calls to say she's worried about their dad in that he's not answering his phone with a dangerous hurricane on the way, Haley decides to drive the two hours to where he lives.

When she gets to his condo, she only finds his dog, and thus figures he must have gone to their old home that's now for sale. She finds his truck outside and eventually finds him unconscious and wounded down in the crawl space. She also discovers the source of his injuries -- a large alligator that's entered the space via a broken grate over a storm pipe. She manages to drag him to a safe spot the gator can't access, but then realizes that not only is there more than one alligator, but also that flooding rains are starting to fill the crawl space with the potential for that to worsen severely should nearby levees break.

Now trapped in the crawl space with her dad, Haley must figure out how to avoid the gators and somehow save both her dad and herself.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Well, it's hurricane season once again and it's probably not going to be long before ferocious winds, torrential downpours and storm surge issues will be dominating the news cycle. While the lives and livelihoods of people are obviously of great concern during such natural catastrophes, we often forget the animals. And I'm not just referring to pets or even livestock that are often left behind to fend for themselves. No, I'm talking about wildlife and particularly the dangerous kind that get driven out of their habitat and into regular old neighborhoods, usually by rising floodwaters.

You know, like poisonous snakes, snapping turtles and yes, alligators. I recall some time in the recent past such a story about captive gators that were getting close to obtaining their freedom thanks to rising waters that would allow escape from their fenced-in enclosures. And while most people in such events will most likely have already evacuated, those who can't or choose not to leave must not only contend with the dangers directly related to the storm, but also now increased chances of encountering some scared and even angry critters that can inflict some serious harm.

I have no idea if such news reports about dangerous animals on the loose in the middle or aftermath of hurricanes served as the genesis for the wildlife thriller "Crawl," but this moderately effective thriller certainly milks that notion for all it's worth.

As directed by Alexandre Aja from a script by Michael Rasmussen & Shawn Rasmussen, the film centers on young adult Haley Heller (Kaya Scodelario, best known for appearing in the "Maze Runner" flicks) who ends up going against traffic, the stern warnings from local law enforcement officers and general survival instincts while traveling into the figurative and literal heart of the storm to search for her father (Barry Pepper) who's not answering calls.

When Haley arrives at his condo, she finds her dad's pooch but not him, and thus decides he must be at their old home -- a.k.a. a flooding and, eventually, gator-filled escape room of sorts. Like such namesakes, the young woman must figure out how to get out while keeping both herself and her injured dad alive.

Okay, let's set matters straight here. The film isn't promising Oscar-worthy performances or anything above B movie grade exploitative thrills and chills. You know, sort of like "The Shallows" from a few years back where Blake Lively played a woman literally stuck between a rock and a hard place in dealing with a pesky shark determined to make a meal of her. Here, Scodelario's character -- who previously referred to herself as an apex predator competitive swimmer -- ends up trapped in a somewhat similar, water-based situation facing a number of real apex predators.

While a few scenes -- once the mayhem begins -- take place outdoors (mainly to allow for a number of surprise attack kills, including one that appears to be paying homage to Quint's demise in "Jaws"), most of the film is set in the fairly expansive crawlspace, and Aja makes effective use of the physical space, the murky rising water, and, of course, the CGI-created gators. While they might not be quite as photo-realistic as the critters in "The Lion King" remake, they don't really need to be, especially since they spend most of their time in or under the water.

Beyond the obligatory down moments where Haley and her dad rehash and try to work out their estrangement issues, this is otherwise a fast-moving, mostly streamlined and fairly taut little critter thriller. Although it won't have the lasting, real-world "do we really need to swim in the ocean" impact that "The Shallows," "Jaws" and other such films have had on moviegoers, it will definitely have people second guessing sticking around to ride out a hurricane in gator land. "Crawl" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed July 11, 2019 / Posted July 12, 2019

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