Crawl (2011) first published by Little White Lies
Young Marilyn Burns (Georgina Haig) is giddy with excitement as she awaits the return of her boyfriend Travis (Andy Barclay) from his parents’ house. After all, she is sure that on this, “one of the most important nights of my life,” Travis is about to propose to her with the ring that has been in his family for generations.
Yet if Marilyn, in all her wide-eyed innocence, is filled with romantic notions about the future of her relationship, there are clear signs everywhere that her aspirations and optimism may be misplaced. Her middle-aged boss, the sleazy local publican and ‘entrepinour’ [sic] Slim Walding (Paul Holmes), grimly summarises his own considerable marital experience as “thinner wallet, microwave dinners, sex on your birthday”. One of Marilyn’s colleagues, single mother Annie (Catherine Miller), complains about her babysitter’s fees, and another, Holly (Lauren Dillon), has long since learnt to reduce sex to financial transaction and power play – while Eileen (Lynda Stoner), an aging, unmarried barfly, makes pathetic moves on much younger men. “It’s your engagement night,” Annie tells Marilyn, before adding ominously, “Enjoy it while it lasts.”
Indeed, when a film’s heroine shares both her forename and surname with the lead actress from Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), you just know there is trouble coming down the road. It arrives in the form of a tall dark stranger (George Shevtov), and while this unnamed, taciturn Croatian hitman has no erotic designs on Marilyn, he will nonetheless supplant Travis in delivering (perversely) on the ingénue’s dream of a wedding band, and give her an evening to remember forever.
The Croatian drifts into town dressed as a cowboy, even using an antiquated ‘six shooter’ from 1898. The grandiose string stabbings of Christopher Gordon’s score evoke both John Williams (Jaws, 1975) and Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, 1960) – and there is a shower sequence that also conjures the latter. The convoluted smalltown double-crossing, and one very prolonged death on the road, suggest the Coen brothers’ debut Blood Simple (1984), while the confrontation between an innocent woman and an implacably evil man points to their No Country For Old Men (2007). Which is to say that the debut feature of the China brothers (writer/director Paul, producer Ben) is wedded to the joys of genre, playing all at once as outback oater, neo noir and home invasion thriller, with some kinky sex and black humour thrown in for good measure.
Yet despite Paul China’s expert management of tension, Crawl feels more like a series of set-piece gestures towards genre rather than an actual, coherent film. Marilyn’s nervousness in her creaky (but empty) house, a gratuitous S&M interlude, the multiple attempts to gloss the film’s title, the shadowy (and repetitive) roadside business – these sequences all work well individually, but contribute little to the whole, and the result is a film as flabby in its plotting as it is taut in its direction. As a showcase of China’s undoubted filmmaking talents, Crawl is an impressive calling card – but next time round, it is to be hoped that he can work from a much tighter, more focused script.
strap: Paul China’s Coen-esque debut is a tautly directed genre mishmash of oater, noir and home invasion, if less than the sum of its parts
© Anton Bitel