It's been almost 50 years since Steven Spielberg made viewers around the world afraid to get into the water, and since then sea monsters have almost never missed their annual date with the summer box office. That is why it is not surprising that now 'Crawl' hits theaters, which gives prominence to a predator less frequently represented on the screen than the shark but possibly just as lethal: the crocodile.
Directed by Frenchman Alexandre Aja, the film kicks off when university student Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is driving behind the wheel to her old family home in the middle of a hurricane to make sure her father, Dave (Barry Pepper), is safe. When she arrives, she finds him unconscious and injured and, as the house floods, the young woman realizes that the water carries with it a squad of hungry crocodiles. What happens thereafter is a tense chase inside a small unique scenario.
It is not the first time that Aja deals with aquatic carnivorous beasts; A decade ago, he released the remake 'Piraña 3D' (2010), which in any case was a very different movie to this one. In it, its main interest seemed to be to extend the limits of the tolerable in terms of representation of explicit gore on-screen. In one of its scenes, a woman was left without hair and without a face because of a motorboat, in the other, a cannibal fish belched a shattered human penis, those rows of sharp teeth do not lack occasions to be driven.
To meet that goal, Aja does not miss almost any of the 87 minutes of footage. 'Crawl' is fast and admirably efficient. We are presented with the house, the space that surrounds it and the elements that prevent Haley and Dave from escaping, and after that the plot advances in the manner of a succession of objectives to fulfill: reach the phone, pick up the radio, open the hatch, reach the boat; As soon as the couple overcomes a threat, they are faced with a new one. On paper, such a narrative structure may seem monotonous or repetitive, but the Frenchman keeps the movie moving at such a constant and agile pace that at no time are we given the opportunity to think about it.
In the process, the reduced space becomes an essential dramatic element. On the one hand, it forces father and daughter to remain in an inclined position, but on the other, it provides them with specific ways to dodge their enemies by climbing through narrow gaps and bending in ways that the anatomy of lizards does not allow. But the limitation is also advantageous in another aspect. Unlike all those films whose ambitions far exceed the possibilities of their budget —especially catastrophes that require large-scale destruction—, the unique location eliminates the epic need, and that exempts the characters from spending a good part of the footage surrounded by effects which obviously have been added in postproduction. And the tactile realism of the stage certainly brings the atmospheric load.
Produced by Sam Raimi, 'Crawl' is a self-consciously ridiculous movie, but not too much. The crocodiles are neither giant nor superpowerful nor impossibly intelligent. On the other hand, humans do not make the kind of flagrantly idiotic decisions with the sole purpose of advancing the plot or adding dangerous situations, although it is true that they have an unusual ability to withstand the pain of serious injuries without it prevents them from having emotionally substantial conversations.
In fact, put to talk about absurd things, nothing in the movie is as much as those talks. Haley is a competition swimmer, and Dave used to be her coach, and he might have put too much pressure on her day. When the time comes, a crocodile attack becomes the perfect occasion for the girl to test her swimming skills. 'Crawl', then, raises the father and daughter fight against external threats as a shock therapy session. In the end, the great antagonist of the film is not the crocodile but the need for the script to turn them into crawling metaphors.