Crawl is what happens when a writer-director watches a whole bunch of Hitchcock and Tarantino films (and maybe a couple of Kubrick’s) and thinks he’s just as good as them. Well, first-timer Paul China isn’t that good. Not even close.
China very clearly thinks that he’s clever. It’s obvious from the get go that he truly believes that he’s good. That’s all well and good, a little self-confidence can go a long way, but it’s also blatantly clear that Crawl is simply aping other, much better films. And doing it poorly.
There are few films with scripts this contrived. People go places and do things for no logical reason other than that the script requires it of them for the rather impotent story to actually happen. Situations arise for unfathomable reasons and characters suddenly lose their ability to perform in an already established manner, making everything that happens feel false. We also have copious amounts of telegraphing with Chekhov’s Gun, Chekhov’s Cake and Chekhov’s Bag of Cocaine all making an appearance and screaming “Hey, look! This’ll be used later on and it’ll be totally clever”. Except it isn’t.
China does show flashes of potential, however. There’s a long scene where Marilyn creeps about her house as she thinks something isn’t quite right. This is actually really well shot and atmospheric, building up some tension. Why he couldn’t replicate this for the film’s climax (in name only) remains a mystery. There are also large stretches of the film without dialogue. Though you can’t shake the feeling that this is simply because he figured out he wrote terrible dialogue, China seems to be going for what Drive achieved without any actual knowledge of how Refn went about it. To China’s credit however, for about 3/4 of the film the filmmaking is rather measured and restrained, providing glimpses of the competent director he could be, but isn’t.
Crawl features exceedingly uninteresting characters, lacking in depth and portrayed by actors that shouldn’t appear outside of daytime soap operas. Well, aside from Georgina Haig. She puts in a fine performance amidst the dire writing and directing and shows great potential to actually make something of herself someday. George Shevtsov is also okay as The Stranger, meant to be a sort of Chighurh-type (from No Country For Old Men, from which the opening feels completely ripped off), but shoots way wide of the mark.
The overbearing score also thinks that it’s in a completely different, actually exciting film.
Final Verdict: Crawl is so forced you practically feel violated. A flaccid, dime store knock-off thriller lacking most of what warrants that title. It’s somewhat rescued by some solid cinematography, a fine central performance and a bit of measured filmmaking.