Horror maestro Alexander Aja returns to the creature feature with a straight-laced tale of survival in Crawl. When a hurricane hits Florida, an estranged father and daughter find themselves trapped in a basement with flood waters rising and the local gator population looking for a tasty treat. After a tenure on Blu-ray and streaming on 4K, Crawl slithers onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a welcome Dolby Vision transfer, the same excellent DTS 7.1 audio, and bonus features. For those who haven’t already bought this or if you really want to upgrade - Highly Recommended
Star swimmer for the Florida Gators, Haley (Kaya Scoderlario) would be winning matches all day long if she could just get out of her head. At least that’s what her estranged father/former coach Dave (Barry Pepper) thinks. Their relationship is already on rocky terms, but a hurricane is about to hit and no one has heard from Dave. Haley heads south into the oncoming storm to the old family homestead hoping to get her father out of danger, but she enters a nightmare of blood and teeth when they become trapped in the crawlspace by a congregation of hungry gators. With flood waters rising fast, the reunited father and daughter will have little time to get out before they drown... or become these creatures' next free meal.
As a horror hound, my favorite flicks tend to skew away from slashers and ghouls and specters and slide towards creature features. There’s something about the icky slimy nasty nightmare with teeth and claws that I find more terrifying than anything else. So when Sam Raimi teamed up with Alexandre Aja for a new survival horror creature feature with alligators, I was all in. Maybe it was pent-up expectations of Raimi’s involvement or my pure enjoyment of other Aja features like Piranha 3D or The Hills Have Eyes that skewed my expectations, but Crawl is a different beast. While there’s gore, it’s not as visceral and oozing as past Aja outings and it’s played completely straight with hardly a lick of that Sam Raimi humor. This is true survival horror as our family has to navigate any number of terrifying obstacles let alone the beasts with 80 sharp deadly teeth.
For the most part, I dig Crawl. The estranged family dynamic between Kaya Scoderlario’s swim star Haley and Barry Pepper’s salt-of-the-earth contractor Dave may not fully come to life, it’s better than nothing. It gives them something to talk about other than the beasts with glowing eyes watching their every move. We learn just enough about them to care about their survival and whether or not their cute lovable shaggy pupper will make it out un-chomped. There are some masterfully executed setpieces with Haley navigating the treacherous crawlspace to try to retrieve her phone or signal for help with the beasts just inches away from taking a fatal bite.
Where Crawl slips for me – and admittedly this is me being way too in my head for this film – is the absurd amount of damage the human bodies can take. As expected there are a lot of bites and chomps to go around but our dynamic father/daughter duo seems to be able to shake a lot of them off. Bite to the leg or arm with multiple punctures and a compound fracture? No problem, just put a tourniquet on it. So many tourniquets!
Tourniquets aside, this movie thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome. At a brisk 87-minutes, the movie gets in, sets up the characters just enough for you to care, establishes the terrifying survival scenario, and lets the carnage ensue. For an Aja film, I’m most impressed with how restrained it is. There’s gore aplenty but it's not so over the top you can’t keep your popcorn down. It’s just enough for a man-vs-nature creature feature and there are some very entertaining kills and terrifying setpieces to go around. It may stretch believability a tad (okay more than a tad) but it’s a fun flick for a stormy night… or if you happen to live in Florida right now with a hurricane barreling toward the coast.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
After already gnashing away at Blu-ray and feasting on streaming 4K, Paramount Home Video finally brings Crawl to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a single-disc + digital release. Pressed on a BD-66 disc, the disc is housed in a standard black case with slipcover. And yes, that yellow corner of the slipcover is printed and not a sticker. The digital copy is not Movies Anywhere compatible. The disc loads to a static image main menu with basic navigation options along the bottom of the screen.
Crawl invades your 4K collection with a solid 2160p 2.39:1 Dolby Vision (with HDR) transfer. Essentially, this is the same 4K transfer that has been available on streaming services ever since the film came out on Blu-ray. Dollars to donuts, this release may not be a night and day improvement but there’s enough here to appreciate. The film was shot digitally - apparently at 3.5k but finished on a 4K DI - and flipping between discs, the 4K disc offers just enough discernible detail improvement to give it the edge over the Blu-ray. Don’t get me wrong though, the Blu-ray is still a beast and holds its own nicely in that arena. In daylight scenes or areas with plenty of light, the 4K disc does display a more noticeable uptick in clarity.
Where this disc picks up its biggest overall gains is with the Dolby Vision (and HDR10) pass. This is a dark and shadowy film to begin with, most of it takes place in that basement with limited light sources and I felt the improved shadow gradience and spectral highlights offered a much more moody and ominous vibe for the film. Black levels are deep and inky letting those glowing orange gator eyes pick up a little extra creepy pop. And speaking of those gators, I felt with the improved shadows and black levels the CGI gators actually looked better and a little less weightless. There are still a couple of odd CGI gators that still look a little dodgy, but I don’t think there’s much to be done there. Whites are crisper without blooming or blowouts. The shots of the storm coming let those blacks, shadows, and bright whites really work. After the opening swim meet, there really isn’t a lot of bright bold color to the film beyond red - which gets plenty of care and attention. There are some nice splashes of yellow... but they don't stay yellow for long.
Perhaps not the biggest improvement from one format to the next, but enough to be satisfied with. Those that are happy with their Blu-rays shouldn’t feel too much of a rush to upgrade, but if you dig this flick and haven’t picked it up, the 4K disc is the way to go.
Not too surprisingly, Paramount has opted to keep the same DTS-HD MA 7.1 track instead of opting for Atmos or DTS:X upgrade - but that’s actually okay. This original 7.1 mix is already so damn good I’m not sure what more could be done for it. Between the sounds of the thundering storm, the slithering gators, screams of pain and terror, and the drip-drip-drip of the coming flood waters, this is wall-to-wall surround sound. When they hit the eye of the hurricane and everything goes silent and the warning siren of the levee breach echoes throughout the soundscape - that put chills up my spine! Throughout dialog is clean and clear without issue. Sound effects have amazing placement and active imaging throughout the channels with constant side/rear activity The storm sounds and the chomps of the gators lend to some excellent LFE and bass rumble. Scoring by Max Aruj and Steffen Thum is moody and effective to keep the mix working even during those short quieter bits. All around a great mix that still works perfectly for this flick.
All of the previous bonus features have been brought over - but a nice update they’ve slipped up to SDR 2160p. While this is a single-disc release it’s nice that Paramount punched all of the bonus features onto the disc so we don’t have to go flipping around to get to all of the good stuff. I’m still bummed there isn’t an Aja commentary track, but this isn’t a bad patch of extras if you haven't gone through them. I usually dislike motion comics, but that alternate opening would have been sick if they could have filmed it! Deleted scenes aren't enough that you miss them from the main show and the featurettes may not be feature-length documentaries but they're informative and work better than your average EPK talking head nonsense.
Crawl is a slick and fun creature feature horror show. Not your average Aja flick, the film stays true to the man-vs-nature format pitting a father daughter duo against one of the planet’s oldest predators. It might stretch its premise a little in places, but it’s short enough that it gets in and out without over-complicating the show leaving you thoroughly entertained. And if you’re not loving it, Count the Tourniquet could be your new drinking game! Paramount Home Entertainment continues their mission of getting recent Blu-ray releases onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc. For some this may be too little too late despite a generally excellent Dolby Vision transfer. Audio is the same solid track as before with the exact same set of bonus features. Fans who didn’t pick this up already or those who really need to have it in 4K should be confident adding Crawl to their 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray collections Highly Recommended.