Yes, ‘Crawl’ is a Horror Movie—But It’s About the Perils of Homeownership More Than Gators
Crawl is, in my humble opinion, the epitome of an R-rated summer creature feature (and Kristy liked it too!). It’s blissfully short at fewer than 90 minutes. The action is fairly contained within one location. There are a few corny moments, but it keeps the schmaltz to a minimum and the gore at a maximum. My friend and I screamed so much that the men next to us moved their seats! Misandry in action!
But here is what really horrified me about Crawl, because it wasn’t the gators. Yes, they are huge in this movie—way larger than the ones we saw everywhere in Florida when my partner and I visited last year, gators on the side of the road, gators in ponds, gators gators gators!—and yes, they are exceptional at eating humans like they are snacks. Director Alexandre Aja sneaks in gators where you wouldn’t expect them, like in the background as they grab a looter off her boot and tangled in a swing set that a police officer just can’t leave alone. Aja is great at grabbing your attention and then diverting it for maximum gator carnage, and while it’s not nearly as horrifying or iconic as Jaws, the magna carta of this genre, Crawl succeeds at what it is.
So, if it wasn’t the gators in Crawl that are soul-quakingly terrifying, what is it? Oh, you know. THE NIGHTMARE OF HOMEOWNERSHIP.
SPOILERS FOR CRAWL FOLLOW, FYI
I wrote earlier this summer after seeing The Last Black Man in San Francisco about how homeownership feels like this impossible dream that myself and most other fellow Millennials will never be able to obtain, and so Crawl put me on edge not just because of the gators but because of the DESTRUCTION TO THE HOUSE! To the floorboards — they get pulled up and destroyed! To the kitchen — a boat goes through the bay window! To the bedroom — the window shatters and doors fly off! To the bathroom — an alligator gets trapped inside a glass shower! This house absorbs all this damage! It just doesn’t stop! Won’t those damn gators leave this nice little house alone?
The plot of Crawl is set in place, actually, because divorced dad Dave (Barry Pepper), owner of his own construction company, leaves the relative safety of his condo to travel into a hurricane danger zone to board up his old house. The place is on the market after he and his wife separated and his daughters moved away, but Dave can’t bring himself to leave the house without any sort of defense. So it’s while he’s checking out the crawl space/unfinished basement (why would a house in Florida have a crawl space???) that he’s preyed on by not just one, but TWO alligators that have taken up residence. Um, that’s horrifying! That’s probably really bad for your home value! How do invading gators factor into escrow proceedings???
When Dave’s sort-of estranged daughter Haley (Kaya Scodelario) arrives to help, she too experiences the gross elements of owning a house. The crawl space is full of rats; a bag of spiders bursts on her face. (A flashback to The Sisters Brothers that I did not appreciate!) She steps in animal feces; the whole place is muddy and grimy. There are dead animals caught and decaying in traps. And oh yeah, I don’t understand the architecture of this place at all, because the bottom level of the house is made of brick with openings dotted throughout, so when it rains, the water collects inside the crawl space. That’s how the place floods with Dave and Haley trapped inside with the gators, because those gaps in the brick do nothing to keep water out.
What else keeps nothing out is this gigantic drainage pipe in the crawl space, which the gators have been using as their breeding ground—and which is broken on the side that leads out into an area of water that has a helpful “Danger, Alligators Are Present” sign. Of course they are present! They took advantage of the broken gate and got themselves into the house! When this house was being inspected to get put on the market, no one noticed the broken gate that was letting water flow into the crawl space? No one thought, “Well, we are in goddamn Florida, so maybe we should fix that?”
This house is full of dangerous shit like that, and even still, Dave returns to it during the hurricane to save it. Because the idea of saving this house is more important than saving himself! Yes, the movie tells us that Dave misses his family and thinks that saving the house that was their home will somehow bring them all together again. But also, don’t you think he was considering the mortgage payments? The deal to sell the house? Whether or not he had flood insurance? THAT DAMN ESCROW? (FYI: I have no idea what “escrow” means, but I like how it sounds, so I keep throwing it around in this piece.) The possibility of losing the house is the danger most primary in Crawl, and that fear is our manufactured version of the American Dream coming to bite us in the ass. Just like those damn gators.
Image sources (in order of posting): Paramount Pictures, YouTube/Crawl
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