Film Review: ‘Crawl’

Every now and then, a press quote on a film poster can ring so falsely as to make you question whether the individual cited had, in fact, watched the same film. A hasty comparison made between Paul China’s abject Crawl (2011) and the grittiest thriller produce of the Coen brothers (we’re talking Blood Simple/No Country for Old Men territory) would be one such example. Of course, differing opinions should always be taken into consideration. However, China’s directorial debut is so devoid of fresh ideas – and, quite frankly, dull in its execution – that any similarities between this and the aforementioned Joel and Ethan classics can, at best, be dismissed as purely cosmetic.

Small-town barkeep Slim Walding (Paul Holmes) bites off far more than he can chew when he nonchalantly hires a shady Croatian hitman (George Shevtsov) to murder a local garage owner. Offing his mark with a sense of Anton Chigurh-style calm, the stone-faced stranger then plots to double cross his portly employer. However, after a fateful incident with local resident Travis (Andy Barclay), in which the latter is killed, the murderous hired gun places barmaid (and Travis’ beau) Marilyn Burns (Georgina Haig) firmly in his homicidal sights.

Admittedly, it is understandable why someone may choose to refer to the Coens’ back catalogue when discussing China’s Crawl – such is the level of reverence/veiled plagiarism on display. From the Chigurh-like, ‘alien’ antagonist all the way through to its final deadly game of cat-and-mouse within the Burns abode, you could quite easily compile a substantial list of characters and scenes that have been ripped out of far more accomplished backwater thrillers. What’s more, confrontations that should be short, sporadic and bloody are stretched out exorbitantly – they almost literally crawl – as if China is seeking out some greater meaning behind humanity’s thirst for violence. Predictably, none is found.

If the film’s lumbering pace doesn’t get you, then Crawl’s clichéd collection of one-dimensional characters presumably will. Excluding his predication for bloodshed for one moment, the Machiavellian Croat would almost certainly be condemned by his very otherness, so poorly handled and downright bizarre is this stranger in a strange land. Elsewhere, Holmes’ greedy, lecherous bar owner is made even more detestable still thanks to a perverse, tagged-on spanking obsession, whilst Haig’s Marilyn is as watery a supposed ‘strong’ female protagonist as one could ever hope to encounter.

A sluggish, uninspired chore from start to finish, China’s Crawl has almost nothing going in its favour aside from occasional, fleeting moments of technical proficiency. Featuring one of the very worst death scenes you’ll be forced to endure all year (it really does reach theatrical proportions – internet sensation Bülent Kayabaş would surely approve), this is one Coen copy that deserves its place in the recycle bin.

Daniel Green