The Weekend in Film - July 13-14
There's been a lot of fear in cinemas lately - that audiences are dwindling or increasingly being pulled to other methods of watching - and the output being offered to try to keep audiences continues to feel more desperate, more rote. It's a relief, then, when a low-budget, superbly made popcorn thriller totally designed for the theatre experience chomps its way into the multiplex, the way the excellent Crawl (dir. Alejandre Aja, R16) does this weekend. This lean, gleefully stressful one-and-done survival horror, produced by splatter maestro Sam Raimi, has all the makings of a breakout sleeper (or screamer) hit. Set during a vicious Florida hurricane, the film follows professional swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) as she sets out to find her father at their family home, only to find herself beset by rising flood-waters and a gang of incredibly big, incredibly nasty alligators.
What follows is a blistering white-knuckle thriller that makes up for its lack of scale with pure, adrenalin-soaked precision. At less than 90 minutes, one feels by the end of the experience like they've run a marathon. As soon as Haley ventures down into her house's muddy, labyrinthine crawl-space, the tension ratchets up to 11 and never comes back down. French film maker Aja directs with sinister intent, never allowing the audience to let its guard down, saturating every shadowy frame with enough ambiguous menace to keep us constantly searching for the next startling reptilian onslaught. In the lead, Scodelario is fantastic, a flinty and able-minded heroine who guides us through the chaos efficiently. Also great is the ever-consistent Barry Pepper, as Haley's gruff and stubborn father, and the two share an easy chemistry. Crawl is here for a good time, not a long time, but is undoubtedly one of the best, most thrilling, most absorbing experiences I've had in a cinema this year, and well worth making time for.
Rating: Four-and-a-half stars.
It's a shame praise cannot be heaped upon Stuber (dir. Michael Dowse, rated R16), this weekend's other big release. An instantly forgettable, totally half-assed buddy comedy in the mould of Rush Hour, the film follows Dave Bautista as a cop grieving the death of his partner forced to chase after her killer in an Uber, following laser-eye surgery and drawing a hapless driver (Kumail Nanjiani) into the proceedings. Despite featuring two likeable leads in Bautista and Nanjiani, Stuber makes the fatal mistake of failing to properly invest in their relationship or in building the chemistry between the two before the shooting and car chases begin - and never recovers. What follows is a grating slog of an action comedy, full of bland, listless action set-pieces and attempts at humour that never rise above the occasional half-hearted chuckle. Nanjiani, so acidly funny in Silicon Valley, is a shrieking, unpleasant presence here and finds no able foil in Bautista, who never gets a proper handle on the character. Everything about Stuber is cookie-cutter, from the plot to the camerawork to the reductive musings on "what it means to be a man", all of which are ultimately too exhausting to ever be truly offensive. A snore-worthy dud.
Rating: One-and-a-half stars.