M.L. Miller here! Welcome horror fans to my Annual countdown of the Best of the Best in Horror! Running every day through October, this list will culminate with the best horror film of the year announced on October 31st. Some of these films can be found in theaters—others have unfortunately only seen the light of day On Demand, DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films yourselves. I’ll also provide a “Worth Noting” secondary film suggestion in a separate post. These are films that stood out or just missed being on the list by a skosh—a little extra for those who can’t get enough horror.
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2018 and September 30, 2019 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. This countdown is not for the elitists or festival goers, so if the film hasn’t been released to the masses, it won’t be on the list. Also anything released this October will most likely be on next year’s list—so sorry, no films like DOCTOR SLEEP or ZOMBIELAND 2 just yet.
I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
CRAWL is the definition of a fun popcorn flick. And while most of them ask you to check your mind at the door, this one manages to entertain despite of that. Alexandre Aja is a fantastic director and though, this film seems a bit beneath him given the quality of horror he has produced in the past, CRAWL just might be the gateway to get him to do bigger, better, and scarier things. Released in theaters on July 12, 2019, here is my review of CRAWL! Available On Demand, digital download, and DVD/BluRay from Paramount Pictures!
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Written by Michael Rasmussen & Shawn Rasmussen
Starring Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson, Jose Palma, George Somner, Anson Boon, Ami Metcalf, Tina Pribicevic, Srna Vasiljevic, Colin McFarlane, Annamaria Serda, Savannah Steyn, Jovana Dragas, & Cso-Cso as Sugar the Dog!
While I have a pants-shitting fear of sharks, for some reason I don’t have the same fear of alligators. I’m not sure why, but I would never get this close to a shark…
Still, despite not suffering from herpetophopia (fear of reptiles), I did pull my knees to my chin and feet off the ground a few times during CRAWL and to me, that makes it a pretty successful “when animals attack” film. Alexandre Aja may have gone pro with this summertime popcorn flick, but she manages to still dole out the scares and thrills a plenty.
CRAWL takes place in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane sweeping across Florida. Competitive swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) decides to throw caution literally to the wind and cross through roadblocks in order to make sure her father Dave (Barry Pepper) is alright and safe during the storm. Turns out he’s not. He’s trapped in the crawlspace of a home, suffering from an alligator bite from a gator who took shelter from the storm. But by the time Haley finds her pop, the storm is upon them, the crawlspace begins to flood, and more alligators find their way into the space where they are trapped. Now Haley, Dave, and their dog Sugar must dodge snapping gators as the water rises and the winds batter down on the home.
CRAWL has a simple premise and a simple monster. It traps our hero, her dad, and their dog in a small space and puts them in horrifying danger by surrounding them with flood waters and alligators. One might think that this would get old pretty quick, but Aja manages to make every second tense. Sure, there is a popcorny actioner style sense of danger, but still, the damage these gators do are real. There were multiple times that Aja got me with jump scares of a snapping gator lunging from dark corridors or murky waters. Aja plays with POV’s from deep underwater looking up to see the gators swimming towards their intended targets and the same from the aerial view numerous times. His camera goes in and around all of the action and horror in a meticulously planned rollercoaster effect that shows a mastery of camerawork like few others. There’s a lot of brain work that needs to be suppressed to go along with the series of events that allows Haley into the heart of a hurricane, and then trapped underneath the house with her dad. But once it happens, the dangers are so intense that I just went with it and stopped asking logical questions. If you do this, I assure you, you’ll enoy this film.
Aja also shows his devious sense of humor throughout the film; mainly through the use of the dog. Everyone knows canines tend to get themselves perished in horror films. Aja plays around with this cliché all the way through the movie, putting the pooch in one seemingly dire situation after the next. I’m not going to spoil whether the dog makes it to the end or not, but there are a few toe-curling scenes that make you root for the lovable, little bastard to not end up as gator guano.
Another thing that made me laugh over and over is the fact that apparently tying a rag or piece of clothing around a wound is the surefire way to treat an alligator bite. I lost count of how many times the leads get bitten by these gators. These scenes are pretty heinous and gnarly in terms of gore. But all these guys do is tie off the wound with a shred of clothing and they’re good to go. I swear, Barry Pepper almost looks like a mummy at one point of the film. Again, this might be a deal breaker in believability to some, but to me, I felt that Aja realized how ridiculous this way and instead of making it more realistic, chose to go extreme with it. For me, it gave me a lot of chuckle at as the danger rose.
The CG alligators look fantastic. They look best in the dark crawlspace, but we’ve come a long way from films like ALLIGATOR and EATEN ALIVE (though I do love those movies with all my heart). This film gives them a graceful-yet-aggressive style of movement, splashing through mud and water to get to their intended chew toys.
I really fell in love with this big, fun popcorny flick. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. I loved the dog. The gators were terrifying and relentless (of course, they are always hungry—another trope of animal attack films that I find humorous). Kaya Scodelario is a capable lead, though I doubt she would be able to outswim an alligator—Olympic level swimmer or not. Barry Pepper has aged into a gruff and gnarly dude. I hope he gets more work as he is fun to watch here. Under Aja’s direction, the film never matches the intensity of HIGH TENSION or THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake yet doesn’t succumb to the self-referential and often too-goofy-for-its-own-good feel of PIRAHNA 3D. CRAWL is a worthy combination of the best parts of both; a good-time, razor-toothed monster movie from beginning to end.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#31 – CRAWL
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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