It didn’t much urging, but Peter “Jaws” Benchley had to teach us to be afraid of sharks.
We don’t any such prompting, or hit novels or movies, to be terrified of alligators. That’s primal, primeval even.
That’s what “Crawl” has going for it, a “47 Meters Down” or “The Shallows” with alligators. Just two people, trapped in a house, flooded by a hurricane and filled with gators.
It doesn’t matter that, oh, Floridians will look at the weather radar and see Hurricane Wendy rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico, while folks in the movie talk about it heading “Due West.” And it isn’t.
That’s just what you get when you set the movie in Florida, film it in Serbia with a French director, and premiere it in Australia. This Sam Raimi-produced tale of terror is still a return to form for Alexandre Aja, who made the harrowing and so-aptly-titled “High Tension.”
And when you’re stuck with these folks, and their dog, in what passes for a Florida basement and waiting for the radio within earshot to use those scary words, “storm surge,” and there are gators in there with you — “tension” isn’t the half of it.
Haley, played by Kaya Scodelario, the British actress best known for “The Maze Runner” movies, is a University of Florida swimmer.
No, it’s not the least bit funny that the logo and the word “Gators” are on her swim cap. Nope.
She drives into the teeth of the storm to check on her estranged Dad (Barry Pepper of “True Grit” and “Saving Private Ryan”), whom she finds injured and trapped in the old family house as the storm bears down.
Thirty minutes of prologue and foreshadowing have established that A), Daddy was the one who drove her to be a great swimmer, an “apex predator” in the water, B) she hasn’t been speaking to him since her parents divorced, C) there won’t be any help coming, or shouldn’t be, with a “Category 5” storm coming, D) she made the trek in a hoodie and FLIP FLOPS, and E) she locked the door behind her as she and their dog Sugar came inside, looking for Dad.
The struggle to get out will be a harrowing 60 minute exercise in outsmarting beasts which “can’t hear out of the water,” and are slower on land. But the land is fast filling with water, their natural element.
Yeah. It’s also Haley’s.
The leads have only to register shock at their plight and a willingness to fight when facing the worst way to die imaginable. They do just that.
We can guess the ebb and flow of the action, the story beats, even most of the deaths.
The entertainment value in a straight-up genre picture like this is how fraught each new corner of peril that they turn manages to be. And there’s plenty of that.
And damned if Aja and his cast find some actual emotion in all this, too.
Who cares if the exteriors don’t quite look like Florida? They should screen this movie on TV in hurricane zones in the Southeast. You’ll never want to “ride it out” at home again.
MPAA Rating: R for bloody creature violence, and brief language
Cast:Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper
Credits: Directed by Alexandre Aja, script by Alexandre Aja, Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen. A Paramount Pictures release.
Running time: 1:27