Crawl Review: Taut, Minimalist Aussie Thriller Delivers The Basic Goods

rating: 3

Paul China's feature debut Crawl aims to do for the Australian Outback what the Coen Brothers have done for America's Deep South, pulling back the unassuming veneer to reveal an underbelly of savage violence, shady deals and sleaze. Though minimalist to a fault, there's plenty of tension to keep this grisly Aussie thriller bounding along. It all begins, as it inevitably does, with a murder. A man known only as "the Croatian" (George Shevtsov) arrives in the sleepy town to perform a hit on a local mechanic whose business deal went South (no pun intended). Meanwhile, Marilyn (Georgina Haig), a beautiful young woman, finishes her shift at work and heads home, fully expecting her long-time boyfriend, Travis, to propose to her when he arrives back at their shared abode. She waits, and she waits, but of course, a fatal car accident ensures that the man arriving at her door next won't be her boyfriend, but the Croatian himself... It's easy to see where Crawl is going for most of its 80-minute run-time, but despite some occasional indulgence in bombast (the score is a little intrusive at times), China's film drips in quiet suspense rather than heaping on set-pieces or expository dialogue. The first half has us wondering quite how these characters will be brought colliding together, and once the scenario has established itself, we then wonder how Marilyn is going to extricate herself from it. Crawl might be paced too methodically for some - especially given the brief run-time - but it consistently manages to engage even when it's not ado about much. The small slivers of dark humour go a long way, notably one amusing if largely inconsequential scene in which Marilyn's boss spanks a barmaid in order for her to clear her personal debt to him. Aside from this, it's all about the style; there's no guessing that this is the work of a first-time filmmaker, whose economic control of space makes taut use of creaking floorboards and doors, and the howling wind coming in from an open window. There's some gorgeous imagery here, too; the shot of blood pooling around a cowboy hat is not quickly forgotten. Sure, it devolves into more familiar slasher territory for its relatively predictable finale, and there is one troubling plot hole - Travis' car breaks down within walking distance of his home yet he doesn't decide to do so - but Crawl proves a tense and engrossing yarn all the same. With a blacker-than-black comic bent that cuts through the entire picture, don't be surprised that it's not all smiles by the time the credits roll. Crawl is on limited UK release from Friday.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.