Kaya Scodelario in Crawl (Photo: Paramount)

★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Alexandre Aja
STARS Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper

Given all the seasonal cinematic bloat, a pared-down thriller would seem to be a summertime blessing, offering nothing more and nothing less than appreciated, adrenaline-pumping chills. It worked three years ago when Blake Lively stood firm against a menacing shark in The Shallows, but the idea goes belly-up with the new terror tale Crawl.

In this one, alligators are the apex predators making life miserable for the humans, as college swimmer Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) and her injured father Dave (Barry Pepper) are trapped in the flooded crawlspace of Dave’s Florida home while a category 5 hurricane rages all around them. Initially, there’s some tension as Haley and Dave are hopelessly pinned down by these critters, but because the script by brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen never offers much variation, and because director Alexandre Aja never provides a proper sense of the layout of the joint, all excitement soon dissipates. A few hapless humans wander into the frame to provide snacks for the gators, but stripped of personalities and, for the most part, even names, their ultimate fates mean little.

Crawl is presumably meant to refer to the movements of both the alligators and the human protagonists, but it might as well refer to the forward momentum of the movie itself. Its solemnity results in tedium, and one wishes that its makers had taken the same approach adopted by director Lewis Teague and screenwriter John Sayles with 1980’s Alligator. Embracing the more ludicrous aspects of the premise and ensuring the humans were quirky enough to hold attention whenever the gators were MIA, that picture was energetic and entertaining. Crawl, on the other hand, is merely torpid and toothless.

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