Crawl is an ultra slow-burn Home Invasion Horror written and directed by Paul China and produced by his twin brother Benjamin. The sibling relationship inspires a knee-jerk comparison to the Cohen Brothers, but the comparison goes way beyond the surface. One of the first things I noticed about Crawl was it’s resemblance to Fargo and No Country for Old Men; then I come to discover that the China Brothers had cast members watch Blood Simple in preparation for filming.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Crawl is a character-driven thriller set in an unknown, rural town. A seedy bar-owner (Paul Holmes) hires a mysterious Croatian (George Shevtsov) to murder an acquaintance over an unpaid debt. The crime is carried out, but a planned double-crossing backfires and an innocent waitress (Georgina Haig) suddenly becomes involved. Now a hostage in her own home, the young woman is driven to desperate measures for survival. A suspenseful, yet darkly humorous chain of events builds to a blood-curdling and unforgettable climax.
I’ve heard it said that a Horror movie is only as good as its villain–and Crawl has a great one: The nameless Croatian hit man known only as “The Stranger” played by George Shevtsov (Dead Calm). Shevtsov is tough as nails and cold as ice; he probably has fewer lines than a bit-player, yet emotes volumes with his unfazed calculating demeanor. He’s hardly a imposing, and he’s pretty old; what makes him terrifying is he seems completely devoid of human compassion with an ability to commit acts of extreme violence without the slightest rise in blood-pressure. My only complaint about The Stranger is that he feels a bit too similar to the villain played by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Man (although in a film that’s an homage to the Cohen Brothers, I’m sure it wasn’t accidental).
The China Brothers borrow from other influential filmmakers besides the Cohens, namely Mr. Alfred Hitchcock; they clearly studied Psycho in depth, employing many of the same slow-burn tactic. The minimalistic soundtrack is also reminiscent of Psycho, consisting of slicing strings in between unnerving intervals of silence; even the two-story home where the cat and mouse climax plays out looks similar to the house overlooking the Bates Motel.
The style of Crawl mixes modern troupes with classic Noir sensibilities creating a world the echoes that of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks; it’s a similar small-town populated by characters who are a few steps beyond merely eccentric. The Chinas are also clearly fans of old-school Slashers; the female lead played by Georgina Haig is named Marilyn Burns which just so happens to be the name of the actress who played Sally Hardesty in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This lets us know we can expect an epic “Final Girl” showdown between a determined survivor and a deranged psychopath.
Now, every time I see an axe in a Horror movie The Shining immediately comes to mind, whether it was intended or not; still the Croatian wields an axe AND sports a limp that is very Jack Torrance-esque, so I’m tossing it in with the other evident influences. You’re free to disagree.
Crawl is a film that looks great but if I’m being honest, calling this film “slow burn” is a vast understatement–I’m talking glacial burn! It’s as though China filmed every scene intending to induce maximum suspense–and then he added additional minutes. There are times when the pacing is absolutely excruciating. Now I have no problem with films that build slowly–I love them. But if you keep an audience on the edge of their seats for an exceptionally long time, you had better deliver a dynamite pay-off. Otherwise, it’s just a sensory overload that turns suspense into boredom. Crawl never lacks for intensity, but the pacing sometimes feels downright anemic. It’s not enough to turn-off every Aficionado, but it will no doubt alienate a significant percentage of them.
Let’s talk about the film’s title for a bit: Crawl. It’s evocative, almost primitive so I was alert to scenes that might explain it. The DVD cover art shows a bloodied body crawling away from a house, so I hypothesized a similar scene would unfold within the story–but it doesn’t. The world “crawl” is only used once, during an especially impactful scene. It doesn’t exactly come out of left field, but it’s part of a sexually charged exchange that plays out between supporting characters; there’s violence involved, but it’s a controversial violence that pokes ire while demanding an examination of complicated subtext. But what the hell does this have to do with our Final Girl and the sinister Croatian? You tell me. Seriously, because it’s definitely open to interpretation. There are a couple other instances of crawling in Crawl, but nothing as blatant or seemingly significant.
So I was planning on making a barb along the lines of “Perhaps ‘Crawl’ refers to the film’s pacing” when it occurred to me–maybe it does! Like I already mentioned, you can’t make a film this slow by accident; the Chinas knew exactly what they were doing. We’ve heard the term “Extreme Violence” used to describe media that pushes the envelope, often offending those with delicate sensibilities. In this sense, Crawl can be considered an example of “Extreme Slow Burn”. It’s like a big “Fuck You” to shallow Horror junkies who want nothing more than rapid action and buckets of blood (and boobs). They could care less if the pacing bores you; if you’re not evolved enough to submit to the slow burn suspense, than turn it off–or fucking suffer. Ironically, Crawl is a movie that could make an impatient fan of “Torture Porn” scream in agony.
The acting is superb all around, with a bevy of minor characters who add incredible deadpan humor. Crawl is a film that looks amazing, creating what feels like a surreal, skewed reality. Clocking in at around 80 minutes, it only feels like it lasts forever. The bloody conclusion will please some and anger others, but I think I’ve already made it perfectly clear that Crawl is not a film that everyone will enjoy.
3 out of 5 Skull Heads.
Director: Paul China
Writer: Paul China
Producer: Benjamin China