Alexandre Aja

Crawl

29/08/19

There’s something refreshingly straightforward and unapologetic about Crawl. This isn’t a film that comes loaded with subtext or, indeed, any kind of ‘message.’ It is essentially a creature-feature, the story of two people desparately trying to avoid being eaten by alligators. Director Alexandre Aja keeps the narrative to a lean, mean one-hour-twenty-seven minutes, during which time he racks up the suspense to almost unbearable levels. You want jump scares? There are plenty of them here, timed with enough precision to make you jolt in your seat. You want creepy oppressive atmosphere? That’s here too, in abundance.

Hayley Keller (Kaya Scoledario) is a competive swimmer, who, since her parents’ divorce, has become somewhat estranged from her father (and former trainer), Dave (Barry Pepper). However, when a hurricane wreaks havoc on the stretch of Florida coastline where he lives and he repeatedly fails to answer his phone, Hayley is concerned enough to drive over to the family homestead to check on him.

Big mistake. Dave, it turns out, is trapped in the cellar, having been chomped on by a big ‘gator. To add to his woes, the water levels are rapidly rising, giving more ‘gators easy access to the house. Once down in the cellar with her stricken father, Hayley realises that, if they don’t get out of there fast, they’ll both be goners. But escaping turns out to be a whole lot more complicated than she could ever have imagined.

Having quickly set up the scenario, screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen proceed to put Hayley and Dave (and by default, the audience) through the wringer. Okay, so maybe there’s one attack too many here and some of the hair-raising escapes will prompt the occasional raised eyebrow – particularly when the few other featured characters are made such short work of – but this is largely successful, and the result is sufficiently entertaining to hold my attention to the final frame. A word of warning though. If injury details make you nauseous, this might not be the film for you.

Oh, and one other thing. Any ambitions I might have had to pay a visit to Florida have now been put on hold. Just saying.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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The 9th Life of Louis Drax

 

drax.jpg

03/08/16

Helmed by horror maestro Alexandre Aja (but far more restrained than we’ve come to expect from him), this strange, complex and intriguing movie is essentially the story of a boy in a coma.

Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) is accident-prone and has suffered a series of disasters throughout his short life. The most recent one, a plunge from a cliff top whilst on a picnic with his parents, is the most serious yet. Though by all rights the fall should have killed him, he’s somehow clinging on to life – and having some very disturbing dreams while he’s at it. Coma specialist Dr Allen Pascal (Jamie Dornan) is called in to provide help, though his attentions seem to be more focused on Louis’s mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon), who soon has the good doctor catering to her every whim. But how did Louis come to fall from that cliff? Could it be that he was actually pushed by his father, Peter (Aaron Paul), who has now gone missing?

At first, this plays like a straightforward psychological mystery, but Max Minghella’s screenplay, based on Liz Jensen’s novel, is intent on drawing in all manner of genre elements, so much so that the film sometimes seems to be bursting at the seams trying to contain them. Not everything here works (there’s an uneasy undertone of misogyny at times, and the portrayal of mental illness is problematic too), but it still fields more original ideas than your average Hollywood movie and the parts that do work are very good indeed. I particularly liked the fact that Longworth’s titular hero is about a million miles away from your usual adorable uber-poppet. He’s actually a bit of a twat, sneering and posturing and treating every adult he encounters with utter contempt – yet we’re still rooting for him, hoping he awakes to enjoy a longer life.

The 9th Life of Louis Drax will keep you hooked and guessing right up to the very end, and there’s also the bonus of some absolutely ravishing cinematography along the way. But I think it’s safe to say that this won’t be everybody’s cup of haemoglobin.

4 stars

Philip Caveney