Crawl or Die (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Crawl or Die (2014)

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A crew of elite soldiers, led by the mohawk-sporting Tank, is sent to recover the last fertile woman in the universe.  But during the recovery they are suddenly attacked and flee through the tunnel system under the earth.  To escape they have two options...Crawl or Die.  Crawl or Die (rent/buy) is directed by Oklahoma Ward and stars Nicole Alonso.

Guess he didn't crawlMy friends and I, back when we could gather easier, used to have "Bad Movie Night".  We'd go out to the local Family Video, grab anything that looked like it had either an astronomically low-budget or an impossibly catchy title.  More often than not we were successful in finding bad films - sometimes so successful that we didn't have to think more than a week or two to think of the worst movies we've seen.  On first glance, Crawl or Die looked like it would fit that bill perfectly.

But the other side of "Bad Movie Night" is that in-between all the quick-and-dirty features and slumming marquee stars we'd sometimes find something interesting.  Rarer still were the films that were damn good.  Only once did we find a great director, which how I began my lifetime love of Vincenzo Natali of Cube and SpliceCrawl or Die introduced me to the talents of Oklahoma Ward, the second promising director I've discovered among all the cash-in clock punchers.

Crawl or Die is eighty minutes of great craft in a ninety minute film with those other ten minutes are still damn good.  It's a reminder that genre work is not just the playground for people who don't have the skill to do other kinds of films, but a method of expression where the raw talent on display makes the case for itself.  In Crawl or Die's case, it showcases a great skill of inducing nightmares with its clear, yet painfully piercing, cinematography and lean storytelling.  The premise may be simple, but the results are anything but, and I found myself scribbling a lot more notes than I expected to while trying to keep up with the skill on display.

Ward wrote a scenario that limits camera possibilities but still finds a new way to present information with every scene.

Ward wrote a scenario that limits camera possibilities but still finds a new way to present information with every scene.

Low budget films, especially first features, typically have the production team paying tribute to their predecessors either through homage or outright borrowing.  Crawl or Die's takes storytelling beats from Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men by having a squad escorting the universe's last fertile woman to safety, and some obvious design inspiration from Alien.  The skeletal structure is familiar but the presentation is anything but, and it's important to note that Crawl or Die takes after Alien but only in superficial ways.  The claustrophobic presentation that follows is all Oklahoma Ward and Craig Chartier's work.

The decision to use natural light from diagetic sources is an important one, because there's a constant tension in the sets between the natural forces that seek to kill the crew and the constructs that are barely holding them up.  Before we even enter the tunnel the lens flare from the crew's flashlights create a sparse tunnel of light around the edges of the frame.  Even before we're in the tunnel, they're being boxed in through the camera.  This unease grows with some superb sound design, cutting out all the background noise for a droning growl or low moan as the camera has a slow-motion seizure as soldiers are picked off one after another.

It all builds a sense of nauseous anticipation - not exactly hoping that the next person will die, but all the same grateful when something finally happens and momentarily stops the escalating fear.  The sickening feeling is not helped by the superb shooting locations that form a dark reflection of their predicament.  In a perfect marriage of concept and presentation, the soldiers, doctor, and woman go through a hellish reverse-birth cycle.  Only by shedding the tools and knowledge that they acquire through age are they able to hope for survival.  As the walls close in and more organic matter enters the frame the survivors are caught in an increasingly perverse womb.

Alonso's performance is low key but to high effect, letting her brief bursts of dialogue speak for her fight to survive.

Alonso's performance is low-key but to high effect in a very physical role.

The concept to visuals presentation also produces some potentially troubling questions about the way Tank (Nicole Alonso) is filmed.  She's our primary guide through the nightmare, and is the first to shed unnecessary baggage and clothing when needed.  This, devoid of any context, could seem like exploitation, adding an unnecessary cheesecake factor that is an ill-fitting image for the scenario.  But Ward's film is a lot smarter than that, and Alonso's strong performance fits into the reverse-birth nightmare to great effect.

Ward's camera never leers at Tank or lingers at her in a way that indicates a sexual fear in terms of attraction.  The fear comes instead from the fear of returning to the womb, so as Tank sheds another layer of clothing she is similarly covered in the dirt and grime surrounding her.  She survives by moving toward to a pre-thought and technology state, and Alonso's performance doesn't strive for emotion but survival as she grunts out the bare minimum instruction and options that we need to understand their predicament.  The creature, whose sleek mouth, sharp teeth, and ridges bear an important homage to Alien, differs importantly by being more spider-like.  Those buggers are notorious for crawling out of spaces that seem to small for them - and given the reverse-birth scenario fuels the tension by resembling a being whose eggs spawn nightmares for some.

All this is damn good craft put to service a film that I desperately wish I could have watched with a crowd.  Ward's film is so precise and clear in his skill for thrill that I'd have been a fool not to jump up and cheer when TANK fills the screen and the credits roll.  But even on my modest digital rental screen Crawl or Die made me nauseous, excited, and impatient to see what Ward and his crew do next.

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Crawl or Die - TailCrawl or Die (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Oklahoma Ward.
Starring Nicole Alonso.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Thank you so much for watching CRAWL or DIE and for your kind words about our film. I’m so happy you enjoyed it, and I really appreciate you writing about us and helping spread the word about our indie film! 🙂 xo Nicole (TANK)

  2. i actually had to stop the movie once or twice because it was too much.

    one of those surprise sci-fi low budget movies that hook you from the start and doesn’t let go. i will definitely buy if it ever comes out on blu-ray (i’m a blu-ray afficionado)

    • Thanks for the comment Eric! Toward the end, especially, when the two walls seemed to stretch on forever, my stomach went into full-on panic mode. On the visuals, it’s shot and lit so damn well that it will definitely withstand the upgrade.

      It’s a great find.

      • that sense of relief when she get’s out of the crawl space near the end is not something you often feel. of course, it’s not over yet 🙂

        the whole thing has a bit of an Alien feel, which is fine by me.

        it’s supposed to be a trilogy, can’t wait to see the rest.

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