WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Crawl, in theaters now.
Director Alexandre Aja's Crawl continues the tradition of monster movies along the lines of Lake Placid, Anaconda, Aja's Piranha 3D, and most recently, The Meg, where nature's beasts decide to take a huge bite out of humanity. The film ends up being a pretty relentless ride as Haley (Kaya Scodelario) tries to rescue her dad Dave (Barry Pepper) from his Florida home during a massive flood, only for the duo to find themselves hunted by very large and very quick alligators.
These types of monster movies usually follow the same overall formula, and Aja adopts the typical Hollywood approach that wastes potential to do something different in Crawl's finale. Sadly, the conclusion ends up sinking under the weight of the worst horror movie cliches.
For the most part, Crawl really does feel like what would happen if you get trapped in the crawlspace of a house with killer gators. They hunt together like a pack, ravaging unsuspecting humans beneath murky waters, rolling you to your death. But Aja really goes out of his way to paint the human as the apex predator when we know this could never be the case as you weigh up both physical specimens. When we saw Jason Statham's protagonist in The Meg out-swimming the giant shark, it was a pretty cring-eworthy moment, and the same happens when Hayley has to get to a rescue boat in the finale.
While she's established as a strong swimmer, it's ridiculous for her to speed past at least three gators, who barely miss chomping down on her legs when she boards the boat. Considering one mauled her legs early on and another clamped down on her arm, there were no amputations, unlike when one bit off Dave's arm in the end. Hayley even yells at the creatures that she's the apex predator, her dad's actual nickname for her when he coached her, which feels more comical than anything as Aja tries to paint her as this 'superhuman.'
That boils down to another terrible movie cliche, where nature is never allowed to win. Only the strong survive, but in this film, the gators are easily stronger than any human. These kinds of movies downplay the power of these animals so much, and it's symptomatic of horrors in general, as seen with otherworldly killers like Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers. We're not necessarily rooting for the villains to win and we that get it's all escapism, but at some point, shouldn't these films reflect some realism as well? Seeing Haley also rolled four times, only to stab a gator with a flare in its eye kind of sums up how incredulous it gets.
As Crawl enters its final act, over a dozen massive gators descending on Hayley and Dave when they get pushed back into the house as the levees break, so statistics and probability alone should spell some bad news for at least one of them. Conveniently, Hayley ends up trapping a main gator in a bathroom and leapfrogging over it, which also leaves us wondering how it doesn't destroy the flexible bathroom glass, just after we see it tear doors and boats apart. However, when one takes Dave's arm, and we see them eventually limping to the roof after the bathroom brawl, you do get some subtle hints Aja might throw a curveball with waters rising so high.
Dave ends up atop the home and just when it seems Haley's about to be swept away he grabs her, with no pivot, and one arm, somehow pulling her up. Then, you see them with a flare, and they signal a chopper that coincidentally passes at that point in time. But as the helicopter descends, the winds push it back and you're actually given a tease that things might not go the humans' way. You might even begin to think Aja's been setting us up for a twist ending that'd make fans of Stephen King's The Mist proud.
However, the film ends with a by-the-numbers conclusion as the chopper stabilizes and pulls them up to safety, which admittedly feels underwhelming given the stakes of this movie where tragedy befell the humans at all turns. Could Aja have gone the bleak Stephen King route and have the chopper downed, and the waters swelling to allow the gators to finish the job with their prey?
Honestly, it would have fit the story perfectly, since both protagonists were pretty much mangled at that point. But Aja decides to offer up a bland, predictable ending rather than something fresh. Hopefully, the next apex predator Hollywood throws at humanity gets a better shot in the fight, because Crawl definitely leaves us hungry for something that would have broken the norm.
Crawl, written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen and produced by Sam Raimi, is directed by Alexandre Aja. It stars Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper and Ross Anderson, and is in theaters now.