Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #385
Also known as Alien Crawl, Crawl Bitch Crawl
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 12 August 2014 (USA)
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Survival Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Oklahoma Ward
Producers: Oklahoma Ward, Nicole Alonso
Screenplay: Oklahoma Ward
Special Effects: John Stirling
Cinematography: Oklahoma Ward, Craig Chartier
Editing: Oklahoma Ward
Studio: Backyard Films
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Stars: Nicole Alonso, Torey Byrne, Tommy Ball, Wil Crown, David Paul Baker, Tom Chamberlain, Clayton Burgess, David Zeliff, Larry Huitt, Matthew Stephen Crabtree
Suggested Audio Candy
How are you with tight, confined spaces? If they’re not your strong suit then you may want to stop reading here although, should you do so, you will be depriving yourselves of one of the most ballsy independent horror films of the past decade. Oklahoma Ward’s Crawl or Die had somehow managed to escape my attention until recently but that all changed in a heartbeat and now I aim to ensure that it is squarely on each of your radars. Speaking of which, my heart is still thumping in my chest as I scribe this. That, my beloved Grueheads, is the power of indie film-making when in the hands of someone with passion and expertise to spare.
I’m going to get any comparisons out-of-the-way from the offset. This asphyxiating little number calls to mind, not only Ridley Scott’s majestic sci-fi masterpiece Alien, but also James Cameron’s equally splendiferous sequel. It successfully marries the very best elements of both films while also finding its very own identity in the process. If, like Keeper, the sight of hapless Dallas scuttling through the Nostromo’s ventilation shafts was enough to provoke a coronary then you’d better be keeping those defibrillator paddles handy as Crawl or Die spreads that dread taut across ninety excruciatingly tense minutes. Moreover, the threat is every bit as heinous and Ward keeps his beast on its chain admirably as he allows good old mother nature to soften its victims before the alien in question reveals its gnarly lipstick.
I have never made secret where my allegiance lies where Aliens is concerned and, for as much as Ripley gets my motor running, I’d still rather be Gorman once the shit hits the air duct fan. I was still mourning Hudson getting dragged kicking and whining through the floor panels when Private Vasquez was so callously stolen from me. It was the old left-right combo but I felt the second blow hardest. Strong female characters have always threatened to cut off the circulation to my brain and it just so happens that Crawl or Die has itself something of a doozy.
Nicole Alonso is Tank; one part of an elite task force saddled with the burden of locating, retrieving, and delivering a particularly critical package (an endearing Torey Byrne) to their superiors with failure an utterly inconceivable notion not in their vocabulary. This ain’t Fed Ex bitches; we’re not talking of a pair of ornate bookends which would tie your mantle together, this is the last remaining fertile woman on God’s earth we’re speaking of here. No pressure then. The future of mankind is very much in the balance and this incalculable womb is ensnared in an unfathomable tomb, hence the impetus being squarely on the crawling… post fucking haste.
Crawl or Die starts at fever pitch as it hasn’t the time for lengthy exposition or needless characterization. End of the world anyone? That’s right; the only thing of importance here is that we recognize and militarize chop chop. Any back story is sewn up within the first five minutes which leaves another 85 or so to descend into an ever-proliferating state of panic as the air supply progressively peters out. Our rapidly diminishing survivors are left no choice than to purge deeper down the rabbit hole as they face up to the fact that any promotions are looking somewhat unlikely. It’s left to Tank to rally the troops and lead their weary bones through an increasingly suffocating assault course which constricts tighter than a camel’s asshole in a sandstorm with no inkling of safe passage, let alone promise.
Alonso provides us with our alpha-female, replete with a military issue peroxide war stripe which is almost a secondary weapon in itself. Tank is badass in the über-extreme but there is so much more going on here than flexed biceps and washboard abs. She is afforded absolutely no breathing space from Ward’s strangulating lens, while a bulbous-headed predator complete with slobbering fangs minces about menacingly just a few clicks south and gaining ground pronto. Any chinks in her armor would be magnified if there were any but she emotes brilliantly throughout, using her entire face to relay her escalating angst and squaring up to the camera without exception.
Ward handles his equipment beautifully and not a stone is left unturned as he slides his lethal weapon through the grime alongside and, indeed, all around our heroine using every nook, every cranny, every diminutive air pocket, to hit home her seemingly thankless plight. We are there for every inch, crawling on our bellies and gasping for precious depleting oxygen as the walls close in around us, whilst our glands wring out those last few droplets of moisture. Audio is critical here and he shows admirable restraint, populating the crawlspaces with disconcerting sound bites as opposed to pummeling our senses at every bleak turn. His audible dread achieves the required effect and it does so through admirable subtlety. That is until the blistering end credit theme Rock With Me where Nikki finally gets to workout those lungs after 90 minutes in hell’s trenches.
By that point, should claustrophobia be an issue, then chances are you’ll be panting like a bishop in a confessional. I’m a massive fan of Neil Marshall’s The Descent and found as much in the opening forty-five to constrict me as I did once the dwellers vacated their recesses. Us vs Nature works for me and somehow, against all odds, Crawl or Die manages to feel even more insular and foreboding. A franchise beckons with both Ward and Alonso promising to court sweet madness once again in the very near future. The possibilities are infinite; with this much verve and guile on exhibit, things could be about to go somewhat loco. I know one thing for damn sure; I’ll be first in line for the next package. On your bellies Grueheads; time to get crawling.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Dread Factor: 5/5
For the Dread-Heads: It’s seconds and our welcome mat is stolen away.
All available exits are sealed and air supplies are depleting rapidly.
We traverse deeper into the mouth of the beast.
Things get tight before we know it.
Then a little tighter still.
And even more so.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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