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The Joker Coming October.

Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Crawl, Review: Alligator…will it get her?

Crawl, Review: Alligator…will it get her?

If you were to consider making a film about a creature that has equally or more lethal Jaws than sharks, you would have little problem coming up with the alligator. In fact, it is a more dangerous and slimy looking being than the shark. An alligator’s jaw exerts 1,342 kg of pressure, giving it the most powerful bite ever recorded in a living animal. It can swim at 32.18km/hr, faster than the Olympic record. And the fact that it is an amphibian makes it top choice for a nail-biting thriller subject.

 

Immediately after University of Florida swimming champion Hayley has won her latest race, a massive, category 5, hurricane hits Hayley’s Florida hometown. She gets a video call from her sister, Beth, in Boston, informing her that her father, Dave, is not answering the phone, and asking whether he has contacted her. Haley senses that he must be in danger, and ignores evacuation orders, to go and look for him. He is not at his condo home. However, she finds their dog, Sugar, there. So she heads for their old house, in Coral Lake, which he said had been sold years ago. After an extensive search, she finds him there, gravely injured and unconscious, in the ‘crawl space’ of their family home.

As rain pelts down and floodwaters rise, the two become trapped by quickly encroaching floodwaters. As if that was not enough, her father tells her that there are alligators in the space, having climbed up the huge storm drain pipes, and that his injuries are a result of their bites. Their mobile phones and a playing radio are soon silenced, ending all hope of contact with the world outside, as the reptiles re-surface, to attack some luscious meals. Though the family is dysfunctional and her parents are separated, Hayley has a special bond with her father. Her mother has found another man, while her Dad is clinging on to memories and moments. This bonding gives them additional strength, and they decide to challenge the alligators, creatures “with pea-sized brains” (Dave’s words) head on.

Well, most of us might not be aware, but there are five million alligators (and their variants, crocodiles), in the world, and that they first appeared on earth 37 million years ago. In other words, they are like surviving dinosaurs. Writers Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen (Cambridge brothers, raised in Salt Lake City, settled in Boston; Long Distance, The Dark Feed, The Inhabitants) have tapped into this bit from history, and woven a tale around it. Moreover, they have used two other alligator traits: night vision and deafness, to good effect.

Then, there just had to be a dysfunctional family at the core, and some redemption to go along with it. Why does every American film have to include this element? Either the phenomenon has reached endemic proportions and a major part of any social or media communication, or it being used to whip-up emotions as a kind of catharsis and empathy with the issue. Cleverly, they have kept the victims to two, a man and a woman, and no children at all, lest it appear that they were milking sentiments.

Hayley yells out “Dad” over 500 times, but can you fault her for showing concern for the hapless battler, who nearly died battling the odds? At 88 minutes, this Adults Only film, with censor cuts too, takes its time to give you its first crash-jolt, and that does not come from an alligator. Having once established the threat, you are then left wondering about two things: how many of them are there and how often will they attack, and whether external help will arrive, and arrive in time. Both plot points are well exploited.

Touching trivia about their family issues emerge as the two confront likely death, and though they sound superficial at first, you must give the script some margin for bringing them up, for, after all, if they will not talk about these things now, then when? When policeman at the barricade, Wayne Taylor, Beth’s ex-boyfriend, advises, even c commands, Hayley to turn back and not proceed towards her father’s house, and she takes a U turn, you can easily guess that she will now go ahead and disobey the order. Such predictability could be avoided.

41 year-old French director Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D, Horns, The Hills Have Eyes) sticks to his subject and does not overdo the VFX and CGI. There is no celebrating technique here. Given the situation, it is dark and murky all around, ideal for special effects, and the alligators do strike fear. There aren’t too many massive close-ups of the beasts, with open jaws or gnashing teeth, lunging at the viewer, and that works for Aja. Why he needs to have his leading lady holding an ominous look from the first frame, I truly wonder. After all, she is merely swimming, which is her second nature. If there is no relief in terms of humour or entertainment, there is good reason for it. And the film is kept to a length wherein you don’t really being to miss such side-tracks. Blood and gore abounds, quite logically, though part of the gore must not be there any more for Indian audiences, after the censorship process.

British actress Kaya Scodelario (Clash of the Titans, Wuthering Heights, Maze Runner) has to swim, scream and look terrified. Not very difficult, if you don’t have to do it for hours! That considered, she is acceptable. Dave is played by Canadian David Pepper. Seen in The Lone Ranger and True Grit, he was in Maze Runner, with co-star Kaya. At 27 and 49, they are well-matched to play daughter and father. Ross Anderson makes a sincere Wayne Taylor. Morfyyd Clark is cast as Beth, the sister on the video call with a cute baby in the frame. Adequate support is provided by Ross Anderson as Wayne Taylor, a police officer and Beth's ex-boyfriend. Also in the cast are Anson Boon Jose Palma, George Somner, Ami Metcalf, Annamaria Serda and Savannah Steyn.

As a genre, the ‘deadly animal/reptile/bird attacking a bunch of unfortunate humans’ phylum has limited ability to impress cinematically, and needs a master craftsman to raise it to greater heights. Aja has tried, and met with limited success. Not bad at all.

See you later, Mister and Sister, I am the Alligator!

Rating: ** ½

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE0k-Yq_YVQ

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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