Crawl is an exercise in efficient narrative. The initial set-up clarifies the stormy relationship between swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and father Dave (Barry Pepper), while media broadcasts warn of further storms as a hurricane approaches the Florida setting. Despite the strained relationship, Haley doggedly searches for Dave as she drives through increasingly wet terrain. Thus the stage is set for claustrophobic terrors in a flooding basement and increasing numbers of alligators. Crawl will not win any prizes for originality, but it delivers tension and jump scares aplenty. Director Alexandre Aja makes great use of the threatening environment, both in terms of limited space and rising water. The alligators appear out of the darkness like malevolent shadows, and their lumbering forms allow for white-knuckle chases as Haley crawls over the mud. In addition, swimming sequences may have the viewer holding their breath as Hayley must simultaneously strive for the surface and avoid her more aquatically nimble adversaries. She makes for a brilliant protagonist: in a Q&A following the screening, star Skodelario described Crawl as the most feminist script she had read in a decade. It is testament to the strength of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen script that Haley has no romantic interest, and nor does she have to appear in her underwear (despite all the swimming). Rather, she proves herself a capable and relatable person to lead the film, with the resourcefulness and determination needed to be the apex predator she is described as. All of these elements add up to a brilliantly intense, visceral creature feature of claustrophobia, jump scares, family tensions and survival. Plus a bit with a dog.
Satanic Panic is a somewhat baggy and confusing but still gleefully gory occult horror comedy of wealth, oppression and the power of bunnies. Samantha Craft (Hayley Griffith) is on her first day as a pizza delivery girl. After she is denied a tip for her delivery, she enters the opulent home that she delivered to. Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be a bad idea. Before you can say ‘Hail Satan’, she’s running for her life from a group of cultists with more than pepperoni on their mind. Perhaps due to its sprawling cast, the shocks and deaths in Satanic Panic carry only moderate weight, and there are longuers when Sam and fellow victim Judi Ross (Ruby Modine) wait around rather than run. This robs much of the film of tension while an element of sentimentality detracts from the gleeful cruelty. That said, director Chelsea Stardust delivers good jump scares as well as laughs, and the cast are certainly game with their material. Overall, while not a riotous ride, Satanic Panic is still a fun one.
Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino loves film. He also loves television and music. He loves writing and actors. All of these loves are on display in his latest film, which works as two fairly charming if thinly related tales set in 1969. The first tale concerns fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose career in TV westerns has left him with little to do other than play bit parts in episodes. Rick feels used up and past it, Tarantino’s unsympathetic close-ups expose the slightly sagging face, wrinkles and overweight physique. Rick’s best friend and stunt double Cliff Bole (Brad Pitt) takes a more laconic view of the world, his body still in great shape as a shirtless scene emphasises. The second story concerns Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her seemingly carefree swan around Hollywood. The connection between the two stories is mostly due to location, as Sharon and her husband Roman Polanski live next door to Rick and their presence exacerbates his frustration. The viewer may also be frustrated as Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood is often meandering and, as is often the case with Tarantino, indulgent. Long sequences of driving coupled with longer sequences of actors playing actors acting add up to little more than Tarantino’s delight in this material. There are some strong set pieces – a visit to an old western set plays out like a western showdown, complete with tension; a brilliant action sequence that serves as the film’s climax, but these sequences punctuate an otherwise aimless meander through this landscape. Brief cameos from the likes of Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and Al Pacino allow these performers to simply spout a few pungent speeches, while side scenes involving Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and Rick’s stint making spaghetti westerns add little. Ultimately the film adds up to very little, and while Tarantino’s love for his material is palatable, he is unlikely to engender similar affection in the viewer.