When Haley Keller finds out a Category 5 hurricane is about to touchdown in her Florida hometown, she must race against the mega storm in search of her father before it hits. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, there are also some prehistoric predators that just might get to him first. Will Haley triumph in the face of this double trouble or will she and her dad become tasty bait?
[Review/recap contains loads of spoilers!]
It is quickly established that Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario), a University of Florida student, is a kickass swimmer, even though we watch her lose her meet in the opening scene. But remember this – she is a talented, super-fast athlete. Okay? Okay! (Never mind that she competes wearing tons of jewelry because that’s something competitive swimmers do. Get ready to embrace a boatload – pun intended – of plot holes, as this is just the beginning.)
While getting changed in the locker room, Haley receives a panicked call from her sister (Moryfydd Clark as Beth Keller, Haley’s older sibling who lives in Boston), terrified because she can’t get a hold of their dad. Why is that such a big deal? Oh, just because there’s a Category 5 hurricane set to hit Florida any second. So… Haley, who actually lives in Florida, is seemingly unaware of the massive storm that’s on the way, but her Boston-based sister somehow has the inside track on the southern state’s weather? Oh, and the university is holding a swim meet instead of cancelling and/or sending all of the students home immediately? Yes, this makes sense! I’m with you, Crawl.
Haley is perfectly calm, and not at all gripped with a sense of urgency. This shizz happens all the time; it’s just Florida being Florida, so pipe down sis! However, Haley does agree to look for their father at his condo – just a mere two-hour drive away – to appease Beth. Nothing like a little road trip to search for your irresponsible parent who decided to go radio-silence on his kids during an impending natural disaster. What could possibly go wrong?
Here is where the film kicks off in earnest. For those of you who enjoy storm porn, this tightly-wound 88-minute thriller will give you your money’s worth. For those who actually want a nuanced story, well… that’s not in the cards. This film is one-note, and that note is Haley shouting, “Dad? Dad!” for pretty much the entirety of the runtime. (Haley’s father, Barry Pepper as Dave Keller, will occasionally cry out, “Swim!” just to break things up a little.) In other news, the dialogue must’ve been easy to memorize! Forget those taxing table reads. But, for now, on with the plot holes because this is too much fun…
As Haley heads out to her father’s apartment, she passes a large billboard that’s advertising a nearby ‘Gator Farm. That couldn’t be foreshadowing, could it? (Spoiler alert: it totally is!)
It’s raining like a mofo, but Haley has no problem on the road. Also, despite massive evacuation efforts, there is no traffic. How convenient! It’s almost like she’s meant to seamlessly drive straight to her father’s place. But, when she arrives, no one is home. There is, however, a sink full of dirty dishes, one distressed dog, and a pile of childhood photos strewn across Dave’s bed. Hmm, could her recently-divorced father be holing up at the former-family home in a bid to stave off his obvious depression over his ex-wife? Let’s drive through gale-force winds to find out, shall we?
Haley loads up Sugar, the dog (my favorite character!), and heads to the house she grew up in, but not before running into the cops, one of whom happens to be her sister’s ex-boyfriend. The conversation essentially boils down to, “Hey! I noticed this road is closed due to this massively dangerous storm. But you boned my sister, so why don’t you let me through?” While the police officer acknowledges that yes, he did enjoy bedding Beth, he also has a job to do and not even memories of doin’ the dirty with Haley’s sister is enough to allow her access to the treacherously muddy trail. But Haley is a woman on a mission! She defies authority and plows through the barricade – again, with total ease – and the cops let her go because they have bigger fish to fry than some idiot who wants to head into the danger zone. (Is there a highway to this danger zone? And here’s your earworm for the day. You’re welcome!)
Hmm… Dave’s truck is parked in front of their former house – currently on the market – but Haley’s father is nowhere to be found. Sit back and relax, or perhaps take that pee break, because the next 10 minutes of the film is Haley wandering around the house, calling out for her father. Where could he be? If you answered, “in the basement crawl space,” then pass go and collect your $100! I mean, what else would one be doing before a hurricane? (The movie is named Crawl, and most of it takes place in a crawl space. I get it!)
Is this a good time to mention that Haley is wearing flip-flops? Yes, she set out for this major, potentially life-threatening excursion in a t-shirt, shorts, and flips. I get that Florida undergoes a certain amount of hurricane warnings per year, but is everyone really this casual about it? I feel like I’d at least put on boots and a rain jacket. I don’t know. Maybe some pants too? Yes, definitely pants.
Alright, it’s time to enter the Thunderdome – aka the dreaded crawl space. She finally finds her dad lying in the mud under their home (is anyone else as worried about the foundation of this clapboard mansion as I am?) with a big chunk of his leg taken out. Ah, so that’s why he wasn’t answering his phone. Dad, you are forgiven.
Yes, we soon find out that alligators are on the loose, two of whom happen to be hanging out in the crawlspace that they entered through a drainpipe that’s somehow directly connected to this basement. How did this place ever qualify for home owner’s insurance? Geico, I have questions.
Get comfortable with these tight confines, because this is where we’re going be for quite a while. There’s a daring lunge for a phone that Haley drops. There’re tourniquets. There’s a lot of banging on pipes to distract the predators, but the same tools are not used to bust out the cutouts of the structure connected to the yard in order to make way for escape. There are looters at the convenience store across the street that meet their end amongst the Cheetos. (This is essentially a cast of two, so we’ve got to up those kills somehow.) There are heartfelt conversations between father and daughter – of course, they can somehow hear each other over the Category 5 winds that would shatter most eardrums. In the meantime, body parts are chomped and some body parts are lost. But our heroine soldiers on!
Finally, through a convoluted series of events, they make it out of the basement and attempt to nab the looter’s boat from the gas station. The only problem? The road is flooded, and Haley is going to have to swim for it. Good thing that’s her specialty! Her father even encourages her with, “You’re faster than those ‘gators.” Here is a tip: if your dad tries to convince you that you can swim faster than alligators, your dad has a favorite kid. And that kid is not you.
The race to the boat is all for naught when the levee breaks and slams them back into the house, where the alligators continue to follow. Was it wrong that I was rooting more for the alligators than these people that eschewed evacuation orders, yet still expected to get rescued? Maybe! Meanwhile, the pair continues to triumph over continued bodily harm that would’ve stopped mere mortals in their tracks at first bite. But that, of course, is half the fun. What’s the point if you can’t suspend your disbelief and go all in?
Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D) does a deft job with the scant premise. Kaya Scodelario (looking like Emma Stone’s soaked sister) also gives her all with the material, especially given the repetitiveness of the scenes. Of course, the real standout here are the special effects, courtesy of Rodeo FX. Those alligators look legit, and the storm footage is bone-chilling. Please note the number of beers doesn’t reflect my enjoyment – this definitely falls under the “so bad it’s good” category. It’s got flaws and it felt like there were a few missed opportunities, but the lean runtime will keep you entertained overall. And for that, it does the job perfectly.
Crawl is repetitive fun. You’ll tire of hearing Haley and Dave call out for each other but will understand the limits of the dialogue. There is little character development and few surprises. However, if you want to kick back for some eco-terror with jump scares and laughs, this is for you.
Crawl (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time you wonder why they didn’t make use of the kayak that is repeatedly and prominently featured in the garage, yet never addressed.
Take a Drink: every time there’s a swim meet flashback. There sure is a lot of guilt associated with this poor gal’s chosen sport.
Take a Drink: every time you imagine the agent’s pitch to the lead actress. “You will look like a drowned rat the entire film, but you will get the majority of the screen time!”
Take a Drink: for my favorite line, “I never thought it would end like this.” Um, why would you?!
Take a Drink: for my second favorite line, “We’re gonna beat these pea-brained lizard shits!”
Take a Drink: if you were rooting for a ‘gator to bust through that roof at the last second.
Do a Shot: for this fantastic, must-read article by Black Girl Nerds that points out everything Crawl got wrong about hurricanes, gators, and more!
The film ends somewhat abruptly, but don’t wait around; there are no extra scenes coming your way.