Crawl spins the simple premise of a girl going home during a hurricane to help her dad into 90 minutes of knuckling biting terror. But that’s not where the true strength of this Alexandre Aja-directed thriller lies. Instead the story focuses on two complex heroes (and one wonderful dog), ensuring the audience needs them to stay safe.

Gators Crawl While Characters Soar

Crawl Kaya Scodelario

Kaya Scodelario owns the film as Haley Keller, and she fills every scene of Crawl with her gritty performance. But her blood-curdling screams and impressive tenacity need an anchor to ground them, which Barry Pepper’s Dave provides. The father-daughter duo battle alligators and inner demons at one, allowing a whole family drama to play out in the eye of the storm. Most importantly, their dynamic evokes as many emotions as do their fights with alligators.

Though it sounds unlikely, the intricacies of their relationship never detract from the horror but rather add another layer to it. Necessary lulls punctuate the crescendos of horror throughout Crawl, transferring the tension to the characters’ fragile family life. This choice lends the film a more even pacing, as it’s a good 20 minutes before the bloodbath begins.

Mother Nature’s Revenge

Crawl Still Alligator

And there’s definitely a bloodbath, thanks to the genius combination of disaster flick and creature feature. When not accosted by wind and water, Haley and Dave must fend off predatory alligators with no end in sight. But Crawl takes care not to exhaust its viewers, placing jump scares and stalking sequences at perfect intervals.

The alligators themselves look as fierce as they come, proving the film’s budget well-spent. By paring down the cast, yet widening the threat to encompass the hurricane, Aja succeeds in crafting a horror masterpiece. Fans of the genre, especially those tired of sharks for the present, will delight in the twists and turns. But even unsuspecting viewers dragged into Crawl are sure to have a blast, given the strong performances. Remove the malevolent alligators and natural disaster, and a thought-provoking drama of a family torn apart still awaits.

Last but not least, Sugar the dog may well be the best pet of 2019. Worrying for her safety becomes just as stressful as watching Haley and Dave in the thick of the action. But Crawl turns out a well-crafted and entertaining horror film as a result, making all that stress worth it.