A phobia-inducing nightmare
I was sold on CRAWL OR DIE nine months ago when I saw the trailer – the best one I’d seen in twenty years. Granted, a trailer is a promise that you are going to see something worthwhile and entertaining. As we know, all too often, filmmakers fail to deliver on that promise, but not Oklahoma Ward.
A military unit is on a single-minded mission: protect the package, and get it to safety. Sounds simple, right? But in CRAWL OR DIE, it’s far from easy. Right from the beginning, we find ourselves running for our lives as the group does its best to stave off slaughter from an unseen attacker. To do so, they must go underground into the unknown, and that’s the least of their worries.
What Oklahoma Ward does best is he keeps the audience right in the action with close-up and sometimes extreme close-up camera work. This creates one of the most intimate and oppressive sci-fi horrors. We not only feel the claustrophobia the characters endure, we experience this firsthand as if we’re stuck with them. I have no problem with tight spaces, but while immersing myself in CRAWL OR DIE, I realized my breathing became labored. Twice, I gasped for air. I soon realized I needed a therapist on speed dial, with a chiropractor at the ready, as well as the promise of a hot shower to carry off the dirt and sweat.
The film stars Nicole Alonso as Tank, and what she endured while filming must have left her with dozens of bruises from crawling through one tight space into another one that was even tighter and dirtier. At times, with her gasping and near panic, I wondered if she was acting or feeling the constraint and near hopelessness of her character.
Most films suffer the second act doldrums, but this is truly where the film shines, because fear and trepidation rain down aplenty. It’s easy to watch the characters struggle, to hear them gulp for air and sweat, but there’s no doubt many in the audience will ask if they could handle such an experience.
CRAWL OR DIE could have easily been a shoot ‘em up horror, but writer/director Oklahoma Ward chose to keep us nearly trapped in ultra-close quarters, evoking what any great horror film should do – fear and suspense. The camera angles, editing, and ambient sounds add to the thematic tone. We watch and become crushed under the weight of earth and metal, under the pressure from being trapped below ground, barely able to move while something hunts us with abandon. If that isn’t enough, Tank and company (including the great filmmaker/actor David P. Baker as Sniper) must endure other hardships: lack of food, water, and medical supplies, and low ammunition, and absolutely no roadmap. They are underground, on their own, with only one option: CRAWL OR DIE.
Isolation hasn’t worked this well since 2010’s BURIED (Spain/USA/France), where we watch Ryan Reynolds wallow in a box for ninety minutes. But CRAWL OR DIE graces us with a feeling of hope, which ramps the tension and suspense because we don’t want to see it fall apart. Sure, any of the characters could have taken themselves out due to fear, but what if there is light at the end of tunnel? Maybe this is why Tank pushed on even when she knew the odds were steadfast against her.
The music is minimal, and oftentimes non-existent, and its absence only adds to the oppressive feeling. The lighting is perfect, creating little pockets of possibility in the tight knit abyss thanks to Craig Chartier and Oklahoma Ward. And for a low budget film, the special effects are wonderful.
Dive into CRAWL OR DIE just like the characters and go for the ride. An experience that will plague you long after the credits roll.
In the meantime as you wait for CRAWL OR DIE to arrive in the mail, get yourself ready with THE LAST KNOCK interview of director Oklahoma Ward and star Nicole Alonso right here: http://crashpalaceproductions.com/2013/11/13/crash-discussions-interview-crawl-bitch-crawl-director-oklahoma-ward-star-nicole-alonso/
Definitely don’t miss the most phobia-inducing horror since FINAL DESTINATION’s (USA/Canada, 2000). But where that movie left you off the hook after the first act, CRAWL OR DIE will bury you.
4 out of 5 stars
(Photo from Starburst Magazine.)