I want to throw in a little bit of a disclaimer before I start the review process. Crawl or Die, which was previously known as Crawl Bitch Crawl is a film I have been championing on the site for at least a year. I thought the first trailer was intense. It was one for the best teaser trailers I'd seen since I started this site lo those many years ago. I have followed the post-production process of the film closely thanks to the almost unprecedented accessibility director Oklahoma Ward and lead actor Nicole Alonso have allowed the public via Crawlordietrilogy.com. Due to the nature of the site, it's rare that I let myself root for a film, then again it's very rare that I see a trailer that knocks my dick in the dirt the way the original Crawl Bitch Crawl trailer did. I thought it was important to be as open and honest as possible before I get into the review proper. That being said I do believe I can give and honest review of the film despite my emotional investment in it. So here it goes...
Claustrophobia : abnormal dread of being in enclosed or narrow spaces. This is what Websters defines as the condition known as claustrophobia. I would simply pop in Crawl or Die and say this is the real definition of claustrophobia.
Sometime in either the near or distant future (take your pick) an infection has ravaged society and there is only one woman left alive who can conceive. Don't ask about the procreation plan, I'd imagine it would be something like Shirley Jacksons' "The Lottery." Talk about sloppy seconds...but I digress. Luckily the government has been working on a solution. They have built a planet they call "Earth 2" - no, not the short lived Clancy Brown/Antonio Sabato Jr. NBC scifi show. This Earth 2 is, presumably, infection free and the perfect place to start the re-procreation of the human race (and is, as of now, free of Tim Curry - which is disappointing because Tim Curry rules). While the planet may be Tim Curry free, it does happen to be infested with alien/insect hybrid creatures hell bent on killing everything, something the team escorting the precious "package" to the planet quickly finds out. With the new planets surface offering little hope of survival, they seek refuge in the massive tunnel system below the surface in an effort to protect the "package." As the creature quickly picks off team members one by one, the survivors are forced deeper and deeper into the tunnels to protect the package. Tunnels that are continuously getting smaller and smaller and smaller.
The first thing anyone will notice about Crawl or Die is how well the film is shot. Often, in independent films, the film looks like it could have been shot on Aunt Lindas' home video camera. Not so here. What Ward is able to do, on what I'm sure was a shoe string budget, is create a film that looks and feels like any of the smaller films that a studio like Blum House is releasing (and making serious bank on by the way).
Ward shows a definite flair for crafting scenes that mean something, and are extremely expressive visually without getting bogged down in superlative verbal exposition. If anything Crawl or Die subscribes to the "show don't tell" school of visual film making. It's a switch from the typical lower budget horror films that often invest a lot of time in talking and exposition, simply becasue it's cheaper to film two people talking than a big chase scene or gore effect. Ward flips that trope on it's head by creating a film that contains the action in an environment that lends itself to simplicity. Of course, it all means nothing if main character driving the action is a poorly acted typical "final girl", luckily for Ward, the film, and most importantly, us, Nicole Alonso is more than up to the task of carrying the film.
The main thing running through my head for the last 45 minutes of the film was "poor Nicole Alonso." What Ward puts her through over the last half of the film serve to prove one of two things: either Ward is a serious sadist or Alonso is a type "A" masochist. Or maybe a little bit of both. Either way, as someone who hates being dirty, especially having dirty hands or dirt on my face, I have to say there is a series of scenes that made my skin crawl if for nothing but the lack of cleanliness and amount of dirt being used. Alonso is able to handle anything Ward throws at her. Her body bending and conforming to whatever tight place her character Tank is forced into next. She is able to hold the film together with a seriousness and a gravitas that lesser actresses wouldn't have been able to. In the hands of a lesser actress the film could have fallen into unintentional parity territory.
Alonso's performance is able to camouflage the films biggest short coming - it's script. Anyone that reads the site and the other reviews knows that, as an aspiring screenwriter myself, story and the script are always the most important part of a film to me. It's why I will watch Clerks on a continuous loop and murder anyone who tries to get me to watch Trans4mers. If there is any one place I could point to in Crawl or Die as a definitive weak point, it is the dialogue. Luckily, I think Ward understands this and keeps the dialogue to a noticeable minimum. Certain lines are repeated at nausea. The final conversation in the film seems forced, and almost inappropriate considering what we've just had to endure as an audience. There is a purpose to it, or at lest was at one point, but it doesn't really fit tonally with the rest of the film.
The other thing that the script does is it really doesn't put a lot of things into context. Now this could be a function of the fact that the film is set up to be the first in a trilogy. But that doesn't really serve as an excuse for some of the other liberties it takes. We are dropped in with this group and with the main girl Tank, but we are not given any reason why she should be so important, other than (spoilers) she's the last survivor. Why do we care about her? By the end of the film we certainly empathize with her, we feel for her based on what we just watched her go through. But what's her story? Why, other than "the mission," does she give a shit about what's going on. Other teammates are more than willing to succumb to the creature. What makes Tank different. I would have liked to see a bit more about her and her motivation. What made her a real bad ass? What makes her the best, other than she just happens to be there? Some bigger picture stuff with Tank would have helped push that emotional connection beyond just "damn, she's getting the shit beat out of her."
Script issues aside, Crawl or Die delivers on everything it promised to all those months ago when I saw the first trailer. It's a skin crawling, claustrophobic, nightmare. Visually arresting, Crawl of Die is a wonderful opening salvo in what I;m sure will be a long and productive career for Oklahoma Ward. Supported by a great performance by Nicole Alonso and a visual flair usually reserved for Hollywood's elite, Crawl or Die is one of those types of films that leaves you unsettled long after the last scene plays.
**** stars out of *****
Crawl or Die is available on iTunes, Amazon and at all major retailers. AS always, thanks for reading, and "enjoy every sandwich."