Greater Gators

Crawl is good ol’-fashioned summer fun

Alligators get their due as nasty reptilian cinematic monsters with Crawl, the biggest surprise so far this summer when it comes to simply having a damn good time at the movies. It puts that other monster reptile movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, to shame.

Southern Florida is getting walloped by a hurricane, and collegiate swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) hasn't heard from her dad (Barry Pepper) as the situation grows into a Category 5. Against foreboding radio warnings, Haley drives to her old family home in an attempt to locate her wayward poppa and put other family members' minds at ease.

With the family dog tagging along (of course), Haley ventures into the basement/crawlspace, where dad is unconscious with a suspicious wound. We're not too far into the movie when the alligator baddies are introduced, and these toothy demons are taking the rising waters as an excuse to swim around and party on human flesh. From the first gator intro right to the final frame, Crawl aims to kick your butt with all-out horror thrills, with plenty of hurricane terror mixed in for good measure.

The vast majority of the film takes place in the house, and huge credit goes to director Alexandre Aja and his production team for making the basement a fun place for people to get rolled by an alligator. The alligators, mostly CGI, are terrific movie beasties, entirely convincing whether above or below water.

Unlike Jaws, Aja doesn't hide his monsters for most of the movie. They show up early on, and these bastards aren't going away. Like Jaws, this movie isn't afraid to show somebody kicking and screaming as they slide into the mouth of a predator Quint-style, or get thrashed around with their screaming upper half above water level as the monster savages them beneath, like skinny-dipping Chrissie. Aja, who directed the wonderfully disgusting Piranha 3-D and the very well done remake of The Hills Have Eyes, does gore well.

This movie has jump scares. Good jump scares. Jump scares you don't see coming. There's one involving a tree that almost sent me through the movie theater ceiling. A good jump scare seems to be a lost art these days, but Aja and his editors have the timing down to where not a single fright moment in this movie feels cheap.

Scodelario (a fun name to type if ever there was one) and Pepper are great together. They are so good, the moments where they stop down in the middle of all the terror to discuss his shortcomings as a dad or her insecurities as an athlete are actually of interest rather than killing the action. But make no mistake: They are best at screaming, grunting, crying and freaking out when their various limbs are inside the mouths of alligators.

While there are many great things to be said about the CGI gators, hats off to whoever made the setting look like a real hurricane with flash flooding conditions. The stormy skies look very real and, believe me folks, I've seen a few real ones this summer. Scodelario and Pepper get sufficiently soaked. They are the wettest acting pair since DiCaprio and Winslet in Titanic.

By the time it all ends, Aja and crew have left us spent. At 87 minutes, the movie is a perfect length and, honestly, I was exhausted and didn't want to see anybody else get eaten. I suppose there is room for a sequel, but I'm hoping they leave well enough alone for this one. I feel I have sufficiently hit my terrifying alligator movie quotient for this decade.

Message to those who marketed this movie: Hey, when you have a movie this good, knock it off with the review embargoes. Word of mouth on this movie didn't start to spread until the day it came out because critic screenings came late and embargoes were being enforced. So now your box office opening sucked. Have faith that your movie is good, and let the critics rip. ■

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