Because the line between film and television continues to blur, large-screen films still have to show off their reach. In a summer where many potential blockbusters disappear at the counter and many potential cinema visitors stay home to watch Stranger Things, format and scale remain points of sale for the theatrical experience. Avengers: end game hop around planets and time blocks. Men in black: international zippers between continents such as a James Bond photo. Even your friendly Spider-Man neighborhood will take a whirlwind tour through Europe.
Some of these large-scale adventures provide the necessary cinematic sensations. But as many blockbusters get confused, a different kind of summer video is going on. In the faint summer of 2016, The shallows (in which a stranded Blake Lively corresponds to a shark) and Do not Breathe (where trapped young people match up with a cunning, murderous blind man) for more efficient and consistent sensations than many of their super-large, mega-budgeted counterparts. Call them limited location thrillers. So far this summer, the limited venue thriller to beat is the underhyped To crawl, in which a hurricane stranded Kaya Scodelario with a set of alligators is in focus.
To crawl is also not that well made The shallows or Don't breathe although it shares a producer with the latter: Sam Raimi, whose first two Evil Dead films are gonzo versions of the limited location thriller. Hit-and-miss Horror author Alexandre Aja knows how to deliver lean, mean horror action. To crawl is much less tongue-in-cheek than his Piranha remake, but it doesn't build up to a fever or delivers dynamite setpieces.
However, it retains its tension in a way that surpasses many of this year's summer thrill rides. The setup is an ingenious hybrid of disaster film and orphan function: Haley (Scodelario) drives to her old family home in the middle of a hurricane to ensure that her father (Barry Pepper), who has not answered his phone, is safe. She finds him injured and unconscious, and as their house floods, she realizes that the alligators are pouring in with the rain water. Father and daughter must both drown and avoid massive alligator teeth; many of the 87 minutes of the film take place in the rapidly flooding house.
This limitation is an important asset. To crawl has many computer effects, but unlike so many movies whose reach exceeds the impact budget (especially in disaster-movie conditions that apparently require large-scale destruction), the characters do not have to keep the entire film to hand for obvious green screens in a desperate simulation of epic scope. The weather effects are clearly automated, but the house itself is a real set, flooded with at least some real water. When Haley enters the basement to find her father for the first time, Aja plays the muck, gunk and early hints of gore for all they are worth. Because the set dressing feels so tactile, the film creates a real sense of atmosphere in a potentially generic environment.
Content to explore its small-scale environment, the film never drifts away to location-hopping weightlessness while Haley swims, jumps and, yes, crawls around various tight passages and improvised waterways. When the alligator bites come, they feel particularly annoying thanks to practical gore effects, and the stunt work creates a more credible athleticism because of its character – much more moreso than stars that have to be replaced with a CGI wire-frame cartoon every time they do something superheroes . If To crawl has no striking setpiece, it's because the whole thing moves so quickly and efficiently.
This includes the obligatory emotional background story, which is in fact a long-lasting version of the foreshadowing of the "gymnastics" involving Malcolm's daughter. The lost world. Haley is a competitive swimmer. (Guess what stroke she specializes in?) Her father is her former coach who may have pushed her too hard. Of course, a bizarre coordinated alligator attack turns into a test site for her swimming skills and perhaps even a catalyst for healing the family. This is all about as corny as it sounds, but like The shallows, To crawl treats the main character's boilerplate with dignity, anchored by Scodelario's no-puss main performance. It is stupid, sure, but it also has a pleasant clarity – nothing in this film feels like it has been rewritten crazy and haphazardly in the editing room. Alligators hunt an ingenious swimmer; what do you have to rewrite?
But even the studios that like movies To crawl do not always seem to understand the relative blessings they have on their hands. Despite Aja's good track record, his film was not widely screened by the press. This seems especially strange in a week in which extremely mixed reviews for the so-called spectacle and the scope of The lionking popped over the internet. Especially this summer no studio should be ashamed of such a unpretentious, well-adjusted bit of entertainment To crawl – and the public should not be ashamed to leave the comfort of his home to control it.