July 27th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Fixing Australia: Can we trust the Morrison Government?

ENERGY Yallourn early closure more than a mere challenge, Mr Premier

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can Labor learn a lesson or is it unredeemable?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS High power prices lead to more deaths of elderly

GENDER POLITICS Catholic Ed's document strong on doctrine, weak on protocols

ENERGY Renewables do push up power price: Chicago economists

OBITUARY The eminence of Dr Joe Santamaria

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 6: Medieval Christendom sparks a revolution

ENVIRONMENT As many Pacific islands are rising as are sinking

ASIAN AFFAIRS Uyghurs lose in ethnic power play

POETRY AND HISTORY The epic of the White Horse

HUMOUR On patrol with Father Bruce

MUSIC Joao Gilberto: Carrier of melodies

CINEMA Crawl: Toothful entertainment

BOOK REVIEW America's postwar boom and its end

BOOK REVIEW The story of the drafting of a great document

BOOK REVIEW The facts behind an undying distortion



FOREIGN AFFAIRS Boris Johnson and the EU: Crash through or just crash

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Crawl: Toothful entertainment

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, July 27, 2019

Do you like well-crafted, elegantly simple and heart-pounding flicks where you sort of know what will happen next? Do you like characters who are well rounded, with believable relationships that are not overly complicated? Do you like the idea of watching holdovers from the time of dinosaurs menacing people and snacking on some of them?

If you answered yes to these questions, particularly the last one, then Crawl is the movie for you.

A category 5 hurricane is on its way to Florida and the folks there are urged to get out. Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is at a college swim meet when her sister Beth (Moryfydd Clark) calls her. Their dad, Dave (Barry Pepper), isn’t returning her calls and he’s right in the way of the hurricane.

Haley drives down to check on him, bypassing the police roadblocks. She finds the family dog Sugar at his house but, with no sign of her father, she heads out to their old house to look for him. The storm is building, but still there’s no sign of Dave.

Haley makes her way down to the half-finished basement where she finds her dad battered and bloodied. She’s wondering what the cause could be when the cause turns up. It’s a large and less than friendly alligator.

Fighting her way away from the gator and dragging her dad with her, Haley is now faced with a double-barrelled problem: they need to escape the basement before it floods and they need to escape from the alligators – because why have one when you can have more – before the alligators use them as toothpicks.

Crawl is a sharp and simple film. Combining two horror survival scenarios allows the filmmaker to ramp up the tension and keep building it up, beat by beat. The characterisations are straightforward and not overly complex. Apart from Haley and her dad, the rest of the characters are plot points rather than people, although they’re given enough individuality that they’re slightly more than stereotypes.

Emotionally, the film operates at two levels. The first, most obvious and most pressing, is that of survival. The second level is the father-daughter relationship. Dave pushed his daughter to succeed as a swimmer, forcing her to go beyond herself. At the same time he grew distant from his wife. As the marriage broke down, Haley became estranged from her parents, and so this film chronicles the repairing of a relationship.

It’s an obvious and well-worn trope but, because it is not overplayed, it’s not worn out. It manages to give the film a touch of depth and the audience more of a connection with the characters – without drowning them in pseudo-psychology. While the father-daughter stakes humanise the story, the real drama is the fight for survival. This fight is viscerally cathartic, a making-common of the catharsis aimed at in Classical tragedy. It relies on spectacle and the scenario itself, but is still effective.

Some of this comes from jump scares and gore, but most comes from the pressingness of the situation: how will our protagonists survive? Or will they be victims of nature itself?

This is the hinge of the film. Natural horror is about the horrors of the natural world. At one level, such films are cautionary tales about human greed and stupidity, about people doing things to nature they shouldn’t. The great masterpiece of this genre is Jaws, a suspenseful thriller and near-perfectly constructed film about the greed of the authorities echoing the greed of a shark.

These films hammer simple messages about actions having consequences and nature not being as controlled as we like to think. Their success depends on their execution.

A film like Jaws succeeds because it emphasises suspense over jump scares and characters over carnage. Many creature features are almost tongue-in-cheek gorefests that seem designed for drinking games. But the good films cross the boundaries between horror and thriller. They are uncertain. You think you know what will happen next, but aren’t sure.

This makes the drama real and streng­thens the connection with the audience – even if the film is slight. Crawl is one such slight thriller, but it’s so artfully done that it’s an engaging entertainment – if you like the premise.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm