GUEST CRITIC #30: Crawl
As busy I get from time to time, I find that I can't see every movie under the sun, leaving my friends and colleagues to fill in the blanks for me. As poetically as I think I wax about movies on this website as a wannabe critic, there are other experts out there. Sometimes, it inspires me to see the movie too and get back to being my circle's go-to movie guy. Sometimes, they save me $9 and you 800+ words of blathering. In a new review series, I'm opening my site to friend submissions for guest movie reviews.
TODAY’S CRITIC: Jeremy Calcara
Guest Critic and Contributor at Feelin’ Film
Meet Mr. Jeremy Calcara, a Facebook friend of mine and fellow movie-loving father. If you frequent my work with the Feelin’ Film Podcast, you may remember seeing the time we co-hosted the podcast for Mr. Mom. Jeremy resides in Lincoln, Nebraska with his wife and five (yes, 5) children. He is not a film critic. However, Jeremy, most likely, just watches a lot more movies than you do. He is without question the funniest contributor at FeelinFilm.com and can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@jayinlincoln).
“You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster…Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick and so thrilled all together. Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.” - from Parenthood (1989)
My favorite horror movies are like roller coasters. The director sets up their story, you buckle your seat belt. As the object of terror is introduced, the car lurches off the platform while a giant chain slowly pulls its riders to the top of the hill. The tension builds until there’s calm. You’re at the top. All seems safe. But then something lurches onto the screen as the bottom drops out. You gasp, you scream, you recoil in fear. You reach the bottom, you laugh, you wipe your brow, you breathe a sigh of relief just in time for the next hill.
As far as roller coasters go, Alexandre Aja’s Crawl is a pretty damn fun trip. It’s a ride that doesn’t rely on twists and turns, but just simple tension-building rises and stomach-dropping falls. The story is as simple as can be. When a category 5 hurricane threatens to level her hometown, Hailey (Kaya Scodelario) takes a quick trip to check in on her father (Barry Pepper), who no one has heard from in a while. She finds him injured in the crawlspace of her childhood house where he’s been trapped after an attack by a giant alligator. It’s as straight forward as movies get. Can they get out before either the gator or the rising water gets them? You get it.
Crawl succeeds because it does a couple of things really well. First and foremost, the performances are outstanding. I’ve long been a fan of Barry Pepper and after Crawl I’ll be keeping an eye out for what Kaya Scodelario is up to as well. While there are other people who pop up here and there, they’re the only two actors credited in the opening titles and everything that happens revolves around them. They don’t have to merely sell the terror of the situation they’re in, but they have to sell the drama of an estranged father and daughter who have to put aside the baggage between them to overcome the obstacles at hand. In my opinion, they do so in spades. I was blown away by the emotional impact that their relationship had on me.
I came into Crawl expecting Sharknado with better production value. I did not expect to be impacted emotionally by the dynamics of a strong but complicated father/daughter relationship. Some of that praise goes to screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen. The script is tight. The conversations are short, to the point, and very much reflect the tone and language of two people who need to have a serious talk once all of this is over.
All of that would go for nothing if it weren’t for the direction of Aja, who manages to not only squeeze a 87 minute movie (I give an extra ½ star to any film under 90 minutes) out of this thin of a premise, but does so in a way that doesn’t drag or leave the viewer checking their watch. He achieves this by never opening a release valve to allow the audience to relax. From the storm clouds in the opening scene until the credits roll, there’s a persistent sense of impending danger. Its action sequences are terrifying and executed superbly in the sense that one always feels like they know what is going on. That’s more than I can say about many films in this vein that rely on CGI creatures as antagonists. If I had to pick nits, I’d say he stumbles a bit in giving the movie a sense of place. I don’t feel like you ever know where the characters are in relation to the other characters, other than just a generic big ass crawl space. But that’s a minor quibble, and something that didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment of the film.
Overall, Crawl is one of my favorite movies of the summer. I’d encourage interested parties to see it with a crowd this weekend because that’s just going to add to the fun. I’m sure that there will be those out there who find a lot more faults in its story and execution than I did. They should probably just ride the merry-go-round. I wanted to go on a roller coaster. And I find myself wanting to go back and ride it again.
I’m pleased as punch that Jeremy led the 30th “Guest Critic” review here on Every Movie Has a Lesson. Feelin’ Film’s loss is my gain because Crawl clearly deserves a fun and wide audience. They snoozed on posting Jeremy’s review. I was happy to oblige. These are the kind of movies summer was built to host. Thank you, Jeremy, very much for stepping up for the great take! Friends, if you see a movie that I don't see and want to be featured on my website (and get a fun fake biography written about you), hit up my website's Facebook page and you can be my next GUEST CRITIC!