Why "Crawl" Is a Better Summer Horror Movie than "Midsommar"
How is a horror movie about alligators better than Ari Aster's latest hit?
Summer 2019's movie line-up has been seriously lacking, to put it nicely.
While endless sequels and prequels and reboots may be fine for getting butts in seats, it feels like we've been watching the same few movies again and again and again. This can be said for almost every genre currently hitting the big screen—except for horror. Yes, there's a lot of horror franchise shlock, too ( Annabelle Gets a Boyfriend, or whatever it's called, stands in testament to that). But horror is also the only genre that's currently propping up fresh voices with visions of filmmaking that go beyond "and then we do a sequel."
This summer, two horror features in particular have stood out. The first is
, director Ari Aster's new movie, which came out hot on the heels of his terrifying 2018 debut,
is a folklore-steeped horror story centering on the interplay between personal trauma and cult rituals. The second is Alexandre Aja's
, which is about a girl trying to escape a basement inhabited by two alligators. That's basically the whole plot.
It might seem strange to compare Midsommar to Crawl . At face-value, the two movies don't seem to have much in common besides their genres. One is a cerebral, imagery-laden, thematically dense, arthouse-oriented horror film. The other is just a movie about trying to get away from a gator. But both Aster and Aji direct their movies to a T, using everything in their wheelhouses to fulfill their visions and evoke the most tension possible in their audiences. And through this fundamental element of tension, by which horror movies live or die, Aji succeeds where Aster fails.
Midsommar is almost definitely the better film from a technical standpoint. The plot follows a group of American friends (mostly anthropology grad students) as they participate in a midsummer festival held by a cult-like Swedish commune. While he never outright explains their beliefs, Aster fills his sets with art and folklore and visual flourishes, all of which bring the commune to life. It feels like a real place where real Swedish cult-members live and operate according to established rules which, while unclear to us, are very clear to them.
At the same time, the world building in Midsommar overshadows a lot of the tension. For viewers, hints of the cult's more depraved rituals stand out amongst their artworks, so we understand early on that the cult is going to perform gruesome acts. Watching these acts, while certainly visually disturbing, loses a good deal of impact without the element of surprise. The situations on display are definitely tense for the characters involved, but the tension for the audience never feels strong enough.
This lack of tension, coupled with the protagonist's lackluster arc, results in a visually fascinating, incredibly well-acted movie that ultimate fails to resonate beyond its imagery.
Crawl Paramount Pictures
Like Midsommar , Crawl lays almost all of its cards on the table upfront. There's a huge hurricane in Florida. A college girl on swim team scholarship (her swimming ability is important) is trapped in a basement with her injured father. Two decent-sized gators block their way out, and the basement is slowly flooding. The premise is simple. The pieces are obvious. And yet, unlike Midsommar , we never really know what's going to happen.
It's hard to call Crawl a "good movie." The acting is serviceable, but the script's emotional beats are almost laughable. We don't even necessarily care about the characters. Still, Crawl feels relentless. Aji uses close-up shots of his characters to limit the scope of visibility. It may not sound like much, but knowing an alligator is in the room and capable of striking at any time creates a genuine, pervasive sense of dread. The gators don't need to be giant and smart or supernatural. They just need to be there .
As Crawl goes on, the tension only heightens. One bad situation leads to another, and as the water levels rise, it becomes clear that escaping the basement isn't enough. It's an incredible example of a simple horror premise that never deviates further than is necessary, but is executed with the exact level of precision necessary to make it tick.
Even though some of Crawl 's thematic elements fall flat, it doesn't need them to succeed in the same way Midsommar does. Crawl 's simplicity is scary enough on its own. Midsommar is certainly more ambitious, but that doesn't make it scarier and, arguably, it doesn't succeed at what it sets out to do nearly as well as Crawl . So unless a horror movie can skate by on horrific imagery alone, Crawl reigns supreme as the best horror movie of summer 2019.
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