Paramount Pictures

Headstrong Hayley (Kaya Scodelario) gets a call during her swim team practice from her sister who is worried about their father (Barry Pepper). There’s a big storm, Hurricane Wendy, headed his way and she hasn’t been able to reach him. In a bid to put her sister’s mind at rest, Hayley offers to make the two-hour drive (in the storm) to check on daddy dearest, a man she hasn’t spoken to in a while. Once home, it quickly becomes apparent that all is not well at the homestead after she discovers her father injured in the crawlspace underneath the house. Whilst trying to drag him to safety, she discovers that they aren’t alone down there and that a vicious alligator is the perpetrator of dad’s injuries. The estranged father and daughter must then work together to survive not only the storm outside, but the prehistoric beast too.

Alexandre Aja has long been a director whose work I have admired. Haute Tension is simply brilliant, and his reworking of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is one of the rare instances of a remake that is equal to, if not better than, the original. His next few films, though fun, didn’t quite capture the same essence of his previous works. However, his latest offering to the horror Gods, Crawl, proves that he’s still got the ability to reduce an audience to a gibbering wreck.

With Crawl he once again replicates that unending sense of dread and unease that made both Haute Tension and The Hills Have Eyes so memorable. Here he slowly dials up the pre-gator tension, toying with the audience in much the same fashion that the gator toys with Hayley and her father. You know that the alligator is going to arrive at some point (you’ve seen it in the trailer), but Aja lays out enough misdirection and red herrings to ensure that the first contact lands with an almighty splash. The tension doesn’t let-up though; Aja manages to ebb and flow this feeling all the way to the climax.

Related: Crawl interviews – Alexandre Aja, Kaya Scodelario and more

Aja also brings his usual brand of gore, he’s never been one to hold back, and here the water literally runs red. Both Hayley and her father get batted around a lot and there are plenty of bites and broken bones to be seen, with Barry Pepper’s character utilising a tool belt in a brand new fashion. Seriously, those with an aversion to injury detail are, in all honesty, better off staying home. The attacks are as feral, ferocious, and primal as you’d hope. This isn’t some super smart genetically enhanced sea monster like Deep Blue Sea. The enemy here is simply the ancient killing machine that is the alligator, and it fights and attacks just how they do on David Attenborough documentaries. Expect snapping, tail swishing, and plenty of rolling.

Our hero Hayley is strong and resourceful. She’s a character that you can believe would do okay battling an alligator. She’s introduced as being stubborn, determined, and a perfectionist at the start, and these qualities all fed her drive to survive. All too easily Hayley could have been written as a hysterical mess, yet she instead maintains her cool consistently. It’s a fantastic performance from Scodelario and it’s great to see her breaking out of the typical ‘love interest’ / ‘damsel’ stereotype. Barry Pepper is also great, but this is a film all about Hayley.

Crawl isn’t perfect, given the nature of the film, it does stray into silly territory at times. For instance, somehow Hayley is able to get a signal on her phone under a house in the middle of a hurricane. Barry Pepper’s character must also secretly be part-machine as that man really goes through it. That aside, Crawl is a well-paced, nerve-shattering, bone-crushing thrill ride, one that’ll make you think twice about going in the water.

Crawl review by Kat Hughes, August 2019.

Crawl is released in cinemas on Friday 23rd August.