Alexandre Aja’s ‘Crawl’ has a simple plot with no expansion to its tight-knit world. But does that necessarily make it bad? Simplistic cinematic structures can be a welcomed change of pace from complex, exposition-heavy films.
There is a sense that complex plot structures always equal success. There are more examples than not that prove this true. The Matrix, which has a great deal of its runtime devoted to exposition and world-building, is praised for its universe, characters, and unique action sequences. And while Inception was generally lauded for its unusual concept and mesmerizing effects, it is often referenced, even satirized, for its thick and constant exposition to the point of diluting characters and the underlying story. Complexity can sometimes be worse.
When a story isn’t hampered by much-needed exposition in order to clarify its world, time in the script can be spent elsewhere. This time can be used to progress characters or simply focus on the set pieces of the film. When a throng of alligators descends upon a coastal Florida town in the middle of a hurricane, exposition becomes an unnecessary hindrance to the action that floods the set pieces, literally and figuratively. Simple can sometimes be better.
It’s worth noting that simple can often be seen as uninspired. Crawl’s plot isn’t particularly unique ...
Burning Bright is a survival thriller about a young woman and her autistic brother that try to survive a night confined to a house with a voracious tiger during a hurricane. Black Water follows two women trapped in the branches with a crocodile lurking in the waters below. Blake Lively plays a surfer who tries to escape the jaws of a large shark in The Shallows.
Survival horror/thrillers in a single setting aren’t uncommon, and Crawl doesn’t blow the concept out of the water, but what it sets out to do, it executes very well.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures | Sergej Radovic
While minimalism in plot structure can be used to fuel character development, Crawl rarely takes advantage of its simple story to progress its two leads. The “estranged father/daughter in need of healing” dynamic is there throughout, but takes a backseat to its scaly, toothy supporting cast. The script’s dialogue ripples along the line of average, dipping below the bar on occasion to deliver a cheesy quip or two. Set in a horror/thriller atmosphere, the intended goal is apparent: use the setting to deliver some gruesome creature feature action.
And to that end, Crawl is incredibly effective. The ever-increasing flow of water into the old house the two leads find themselves trapped within helps swell the tension beyond merely the presence of killer alligators roaming the grounds. The dangers of drowning are at times as equally unsettling as the fear of being dismembered by a maw of gnashing teeth. A handful of sacrificial co-stars placed on a waterlogged platter help round out the familiar structure of the horror element. The necessary fodder helps drive the thrills while temporarily alleviating pressure off of our dad and daughter leads.
“Simple can sometimes be better” is a relative statement when applied to Crawl. The bloody waters run deep at the expense of the shallow plot and surface-level dialogue. Go into the film with the expectation that Crawl isn’t much more than a superficial blend of survival horror with a realism-tinged creature feature.
This is arguably director Alexandre Aja’s best work in years, focusing solely on the engagement of thrills and tension, yet it still requires a degree of understanding that it seeks to be nothing more than its plot suggests.
Have you seen Crawl? If so, what'd you think? Sound off in the comments below.