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The trailer to Crawl showed a young woman (Haley, played by Kaya Scodelario) running to help her father (Dave, played by Barry Pepper), who’s trapped inside his basement during a Category 5 hurricane. The trailer very clearly shows that an evacuation warning is in place, urging everyone to get out, and no help will be forthcoming. Yet our protagonist charges in anyway and finds herself and her father running from giant bloodthirsty alligators.

The film comes to us from producer Sam Raimi, known for his disturbing sadistic glee in making his characters suffer. The director is Alexandre Aja, still perhaps best known for his 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes, though I’m honestly partial to his uber-campy Piranha 3D tits-and-gorefest. The screenplay comes to us from the team of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who’ve previously written two or three quickly-forgotten shlocky horror flicks.

Taking all of this into account, one major question springs to mind: How to make the lead character sympathetic. Even with the best of intentions, it’s tough to sympathize with someone charging into a goddamn hurricane without training, backup, equipment, or prep of any kind. At some point, there’s asking for trouble to the extent that we can’t really be shocked or saddened when trouble comes. Furthermore, these are alligators in Florida. And they’re barging into homes that should’ve been abandoned before they got flattened by the Category 5 hurricane. What reason do I have to root against the gators?

Granted, Sam Raimi faced similar problems with the phenomenal Don’t Breathe, but there were some crucial differences. That movie was about a team of bumbling coed thieves breaking into the home of a homicidal psychopath. It was a story of Bad versus Evil, in which we could watch the conflict escalate with the knowledge that both sides would be made to suffer for their respective crimes. But in a conflict between literal predatory beasts and a well-intentioned idiot on a rescue mission, that same morality doesn’t apply.

Then again, this is a movie made by Aja and the Rasmussen Brothers. This isn’t the team you hire for a character study or a morality play. This is the team you hire when you want to make a brainless action/horror thrill ride in which the plot is an afterthought at best. And that’s exactly what we got.

Granted, Haley is a competitive swimmer and her dad was her first coach, so at least the two have something of a fighting chance in the water. Even so, that doesn’t excuse our lead character from charging into an active disaster area with no backup or prep, actively and willfully ignoring the multitude of warning signs telling her to just go back already. And upon arriving at the house, she proceeds to move without any sense of urgency, taking in all the old photographs and mementos even as the literal Category 5 hurricane is beating down around her!

Yes, I’m aware that this woman is looking for her father and wants to know that he’s okay. I get that and I sympathize. Even so, one of the first things anyone learns in CPR training (and as a competitive swimmer, of course she’s trained in CPR) is to never try and help anyone in a hazardous situation without the proper training. It only means that when the professionals arrive, they’ll have to try and lift out two bodies instead of one.

It gets even worse. When Haley and her dad are in the basement, Dave informs her that the gators got in through the drainage pipe. You might be thinking “No, she couldn’t possibly be that stupid.” Yes, she certainly is.

To be entirely fair, Scodelario is a natural-born Last Girl Standing, and she plays through every super-tight extreme close-up like a champ. She’s also got a fantastic scene partner in Barry Pepper, who’s certainly worked with less before. (Battlefield Earth, anyone?) The two of them have a solid interplay that belongs in a much better movie.

It’s disheartening to see these two actors trying so hard to salvage this picture, but they’ve got nothing to work with. The characters are too thin, the plot is too thin, and the themes are too thin. There’s something about courage and self-esteem, something about home and family; all of it a load of trite and cliched cock and bull with only the faintest connection to the central premise and the onscreen action.

To recap, the movie was never going to succeed based on the strength of its characters, the relevance of its themes, or the creativity of its premise. Instead, it appears that the filmmakers were banking on visceral thrills and immersive horror. Sure enough, the gore effects are great fun, the scares are nicely timed, and the production design looks solid. There’s a neat sense of claustrophobia in that basement, especially as the water level rises and our characters are running out of air.

There are only two problems with this. One is major, one is minor. The minor problem is in the uneven CGI. Some of the alligator shots look better than others, and that first shot in particular is laughably crude.

The major problem is that half an hour into the movie, Haley gets chomped by a gator. With enough force to equal a motherfucking pickup truck getting dropped onto her leg. The gator then proceeds to quickly swing her back and forth, as animals often do. The problem isn’t that our protagonist dies half an hour in. The problem is that not even five seconds later, she’s back up and running on both feet. It’s not even a problem for her at any subsequent point in the movie.

B’dee-uh, b’dee-uh, b’dee-uh, THAT’S ALL, FOLKS!

About five minutes later, we see a gang of hapless looters getting torn apart by gators like nothing. A couple of cops are ripped to shreds as well. But Haley gets bitten and it barely even fazes her. Not even once, but multiple times, Haley is bitten by a goddamn 12-foot-long alligator — featuring the most powerful jaws seen on God’s green earth since the motherfucking Tyrannosaurus Rex! — and she’s scarcely even bleeding afterwards.

Do I even need to explain why this ruins the whole useless movie? How the hell can anyone take this survival horror movie seriously when we know for a fact that our main character is invulnerable, and it’s established by the end of the first act? How can we possibly fear the awesome power of these preternatural killing machines when simply being within three feet of our heroine means they get Nerfed?

Crawl is toothless. The scares might be wonderfully presented, but that doesn’t matter when our lead character is clearly shown to be immune from all harm at the start of the film. I commend our two lead actors, but all their effort is wasted on thin characters, a thin plot, and thin themes. All of this amounts to a movie too stupid to be taken seriously, and yet the movie takes itself too seriously to be any fun.

Couple all of this with a runtime that doesn’t even reach 90 minutes and there’s no way this is worth paying for a full-price ticket. Even for a rental, why watch this when you could check out Piranha 3D? Not recommended.

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