Back in college, I spent a summer on an archaeological excavation on a remote part of the Savannah River. One day our boat’s engine died just downstream from a nature preserve, which meant gators were EVERYWHERE. And they were absolutely enormous. We had to leave the boat behind and wade in waist deep water for about a kilometer to get to civilization again, swimming across channels, our muddy feet fluttering above an abyss of water so thick with silt you couldn’t see your own hand. I’m sure the gators, however, knew exactly where we were.
That fateful day, seven of us went into the water…
And seven came out. Yeah, sorry to disappoint you.
Those alligators couldn’t have cared less about us. We were big, strange, terrified meat sacks, but we weren’t exactly—I have to say it—dog-sized.
So when I watched Crawl, the 2019 creature-feature about a girl trying to rescue her father from an alligator-infested crawl space, it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief enough to be scared.
In terms of creature design, the water monsters of Crawl don’t have super powers, or lasers strapped to their heads, or mutated brains that make them smart and sneaky. They’re just chunky, bad tempered alligators—the monster next door. They chomp. They growl. And they crawl. And then about halfway through the movie, they begin to gather, like looters during a city riot, to maim and damage human stragglers in a way alligators just don’t.
Let me make it clear that I am NOT blaming the filmmakers for my boat breaking down in college, forever desensitizing me to alligator fear. I usually don’t care if movie predators drawn from reality violate the rules of nature to become more of a threat. For example, I love The Shallows, in which a shark acts in very unsharky ways to terrorize a surfer stuck on a rock. In the case of Crawl, I just couldn’t get out of my own personal experience.
Despite that, not only did I enjoy this flick, but I want to rewatch it.
I love a good father-daughter story, as any of my beta readers of FRACTURE TIDE know, and CRAWL serves us up a good one full of history and estrangement and affection. Second, the special effects—the slowly gathering storm, the swirling clouds, cars floating down neighborhood streets, an entire town cast in eerie storm light—scared the crap out of me. As the surging brown storm water swallowed the MC’s childhood home, it hit me. The hurricane. That’s the water monster. The world’s BIGGEST and most terrifying water monster that has ever existed, one that can wipe out hundreds of father-daughter stories. It’s the hurricane that makes this a true horror movie.
A lot of horror writers like to draw from the well of angst our society is feeling at a particular time, and right now, the thought that what we’ve done to nature could actually destroy us—on a large scale—seems to be what Crawl is really tapping into. So batten down the hatches, folks, and be ready for some old-school creature jump scares along with a deep drink of fear disguised as swamp water. I promise you’ll enjoy it way more than a long afternoon stuck on the Savannah River with the real thing.