Crawl
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Cso-Cso
Rated R for bloody creature violence and brief language
1 hr., 27 min.

Ha! I know you’re laughing at me for picking this film. It’s OK. It’s August, traditionally a dog month for films. So when it comes to selecting a low-rent release and I have a limited number of choices, I always pick the film with the animal. Last year, it was The Meg. This year, it’s alligators AND a scruffy but cute dog named Sugar.

While this is not the first film to feature a gator as predator, this might be the first to combine hurricanes with humans stuck in a flooding house basement in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane with gators on the loose. Not even Sharknado was that creative.

Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is competing for a spot on the University of Florida’s swimming team at its main campus in Gainesville. As Hurricane Wendy bears down on the state, Haley is worried that she can’t contact her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper).

Wondering if he’s missing or hurt, Haley drives through the storm to her father’s condo. He’s not there, but she finds his dog, Sugar (Cso-Cso). Grabbing the dog, she drives around roadblocks and avoids law enforcement to get to her father’s house in Coral Lake.

When she arrives, all signs point to him being there. His truck is in the driveway. The house looks occupied. Haley searches for him in the basement, or as they call it in the South, the crawl space. Radio on. Tools lying around. It certainly looks like he’s there.

Suddenly, an enormous alligator appears and Haley must fight as the alligator tries to tear her leg off. When it finally lets go, she finds her wounded father in the far corner of the basement. Now it’s a challenge. Their escape route is cut off by not one but two alligators, and the basement is flooding from the storm. The impending dilemma: escape, or get eaten or drown.

You would expect this film to be low budget and high horror. Granted, it was filmed in Serbia and features lots of blood and bones, floating carcasses and alligators with their mouths wide open.

Still, French director Alexandre Aja manages to keep it tight. It’s all about escape. He manages to keep the imagination focused on where the beasts are located. You go to these films for the fright, and Aja, even with limited special effects and a confined location, keeps your mind occupied. It’s not just about alligators. The storm is always in the background, and the water itself becomes an equally dangerous threat.

There’s also good chemistry between Scodelario and Pepper as father and daughter. It’s a family story, with Pepper as more than just a dad. He was also Scodelario’s overbearing swim coach. Usually these little side twists are more diversions than stories. In this case, their troubles give the film an extra touch of humanity.

No, this film will not win any awards. Unlike Jaws, it won’t go down as groundbreaking. But, hey, all you ask for from these movies is to be entertained and/or scared. Crawl succeeds in both cases.

So, while you wouldn’t take your kids to see this, you might consider slipping away for a while just to get your summer fix of horror. When I was growing up, any animal could be a source of film terror. Ants, grasshoppers, spiders, even the creature from the black lagoon.

Alligators in real life are dangerous animals. Put them in a basement swimming around and you’ve got yourself a chomping good time. Don’t think of it as low-grade entertainment. Think of it as a “what if” kind of situation. I’ve been to Florida. I’ve seen alligators along the road. They’re prehistoric and scary. Would I want them in my basement swimming around? Would I want to be there during a hurricane? Ah, see. Already, you’re imagining it.