Monday, October 14, 2019

Crawl: Blu-ray / DVD Review

Cody takes a look at the Blu-ray / DVD release of the Alexandre Aja-directed, Sam Raimi-produced alligator movie Crawl.

I'm on board to see anything from director Alexandre Aja, but I was especially excited when I heard he was going to direct Crawl because it marks a return to the world of "nature run amok" horror for him - nine years ago, Aja was at the helm of the awesome Piranha 3D. With Crawl, he goes from making a movie about ravenous fish to making a movie about ravenous alligators. My interest in the movie was boosted even further by the involvement of Sam Raimi, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, as producer.

I can see why names like Aja and Raimi were both drawn to this project, because screenwriters Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen came up with a concept that provides a perfectly simple set-up for a cinematic thrill ride: a young woman and her father are trapped in a flooding home during a hurricane, as the rising waters bring alligators into their house. That's so brilliant, it's baffling it was never done before. There have been a lot of alligator and crocodile movies, but no one ever thought to set an entire movie inside a flooding house occupied by just a couple characters. This should have been done long before we got to DinoCrocs or Supergators.

Kaya Scodelario stars as Haley, who is attending college on a swimming scholarship - so you know there's going to be a moment where she has to try to outswim alligators at some point in the film. Barry Pepper plays Haley's dad, who used to be her swimming coach. The Rasmussens provide Scodelario and Pepper plenty of character drama to play with in the midst of alligator attacks, as Haley is concerned that she's about to lose her scholarship and the whole family is trying to recover from her parents' divorce, which has forced everyone to abandon their old home. But new owners haven't moved into the old home yet, so that's where Haley goes in search of her dad when she can't reach him as a category 5 hurricane blows into their area of Florida and a mandatory evacuation goes into effect.

As their old neighborhood begins to flood, Haley does find her dad at their former home. Down in the crawlspace, where he has already been wounded by an alligator. It takes 20 minutes for an alligator to make its presence known, but from that moment these creatures remain a constant threat for the rest of the film's 87 minute running time. The bulk of that time is spent down in the crawlspace, but Aja and the Rasmussens make it work. The set-up of two people trying to escape from a confined space without getting chomped by large reptiles sustains an entire film.

But just in case some viewers might not be satisfied just watching the struggle of Haley and her father, some other characters do show up on a couple different occasions to become alligator chow, and I appreciated the body count. I also appreciated the climactic sequence when the action moves out of the crawlspace and continues through the rest of the house, all the way up to the roof.

Crawl was exactly the movie I hoped it would be. It's packed with thrills and keeps the scenario interesting and exciting, throwing complication after complication at Haley and her dad. Sometimes characters get a bit too lucky, sometimes the alligators aren't very convincing, but I didn't mind. I had a fun time watching this movie.

I received a DVD / Blu-ray combo of Crawl to review, and while the DVD is a barebones presentation of the film, the Blu-ray does have a handful of special features.

First up is a five minute motion comic presentation of an alternate opening sequence that was scripted for the movie but not filmed. This sequence follows a family of four (plus a stuffed animal called Mr. Hops) as they try to escape the approaching hurricane and accompanying flood. They get stuck on the road as the waters bring in alligators... I have to say, I'm glad this sequence didn't open the movie. For one thing, I like that Crawl doesn't have an opening attack and instead chooses to build up to the appearance of the alligators - there didn't need to be an alligator attack any earlier than when one shows up in the crawlspace 20 minutes in. But the main reason why I'm glad this wasn't the opening is that it's much darker and more nihilistic than the rest of the movie. It wouldn't have fit. It would have added some extra thrills, but it's also devastating.

There are three clips in the "deleted and extended scenes" section, and they were all cut for good reason. They would have added some more drama, but they weren't necessary.

Making up for the lack of audio commentary are a couple of featurettes. Running 28 minutes, the "Beneath Crawl" featurette covers the making of the film from the moment the Rasmussens came up with the idea through production. The Rasmussens, Aja, Raimi, Scodelario, Pepper, and producer Craig Flores all discuss working on the film, their talking head interviews intercut with extensive behind-the-scenes footage. Aja and Raimi reveal they had almost worked together a decade earlier, as Raimi had asked Aja to direct the 2007 film The Messengers (which ended up being directed by the Pang Brothers). Aja had the offers to work with Raimi on The Messengers or with Wes Craven on a remake of The Hills Have Eyes on his table at the same time. A great problem to have. Of course, Aja chose Hills, but he eventually got to work with Raimi after all. So it all worked out for him.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that Crawl, a movie that takes place largely within the confines of one house set, was filmed in Serbia, but I wasn't too shocked because the Raimi-produced Don't Breathe built its house set in Hungary. You might imagine these house sets could be built somewhere in the directors' home town, but that's not how these productions work.

"Beneath Crawl" also reveals that the Rasmussens' original script kept to the crawlspace, and it was Aja's idea to bust out of there eventually and go through the rest of the house. It's interesting to learn that the rush to the roof was added later, because the moment when the film first exits the home and the crawlspace does feel like an ending. Then we go back into the house and it's like the filmmakers saying, "Wait, there's more!"

During the house flood sequence, Haley escapes from an alligator by going into the shower. Seeing Kaya Scodelario do this reminded me of a similar scene in the movie Tiger House where she hides from home invaders in a shower. There's even shots in both films of her bare feet standing on the soap tray.

The next featurette is called "Category 5 Gators: The VFX of Crawl". This one is 12 minutes long and it's exactly what the title promises, a look at how the alligators were brought to the screen. That's through the use of digital effects, a green gator-ish head that was shoved at actors on a pole, a stunt person in a green suit, a swimmer who splashed through the water like an alligator, and a puppet head.

The last of the special features is called "Alligator Attacks", and it's just a compilation of the alligator attack moments from the movie.

Crawl will be available on DVD and Blu-ray as of October 15th, and if you like "nature run amok" thrillers I think it's worth checking out. If you're so inclined, it would make for a good double feature with Burning Bright, a 2010 film about a young woman and her little brother getting trapped in a house with a tiger during a category 3 hurricane.

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