DVD REVIEW: CRAWL OR DIE / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: OKLAHOMA WARD / SCREENPLAY: OKLAHOMA WARD / STARRING: NICOLE ALONSO, TOREY BYRNE, TOMMY BALL, WIL CROWN, MATTHEW STEPHEN CRABTREE / RELEASE DATE: TBA (UK); OUT NOW (R1)
Remember that sequence in Alien when Tom Skerritt went crawling around the Nostromo’s air ducts on an ill-fated hunt for the murderous star-beast? Instead of a mere five minutes, imagine that confined and encroaching dread lasting for an entire film, with a Special Forces unit tasked with transporting the last living fertile woman to a new planet being hunted by an alien entity through a constricting underground maze. A mutant chimera of insectoid clicking, reptilian skin, arachnid limbs, a bulbous skull and a wide maw, the creature hounding their escape is highly reminiscent of HR Giger’s aforementioned xenomorph (even down to oozing steaming slime from eldritch pores). Largely seen only through brief and deadly flashes of claws, tail or teeth, it’s a relentless and unstoppable black-hided monstrosity; but for all the atmospheric tension of its pursuit, it still falls second to the source of the story’s true terror.
As the film progresses, anyone with even a hint of claustrophobia will begin to physically squirm. Each successive tunnel to be traversed is smaller than the last, forcing the dwindling survivors to first edge along in a half-squat before crawling on their hands and knees, then sliding on their stomachs and finally inching forwards with only their fingers and toes given enough space to laboriously advance their movement inch by torturous inch. The regular close ups are both intimate and intrusive, making us feel as though we are trapped with them in the confines of the shrinking tunnels, where a single twist to a wrong angle constantly threatens to immobilise them in cramped contortion. We can practically smell the dry earth and choke on its arid dust; taste the stale, recycled air they’re forced to breathe and toil along with them as the stifling oppression of their treacherous body heat drenches them with layers of clammy sweat, coating them in a second skin of suffocating dirt.
Front and centre of proceedings is Nicole Alonso as the stoic Tank, an aptly-named juggernaut of wire muscle, punk hair and icy resolve. She evokes the badassery of both Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton in each of their iconic survivalist roles, along with the look and attitude of Lisbeth Salander and the raw physical durability of Kiwi stuntwoman Zoë Bell thrown in for good measure. Although it’s not long before she’s stripped down to her skivvies (first losing her jacket for unconstrained movement and then her trousers to tear into makeshift bandages), it doesn’t feel gratuitous nor for the sake of cheap titillation. In fact, given Tank’s impassive bearing and confrontational demeanour, it’s almost as though she’s daring you to comment on how she looks and see what happens.Crawl or Die calls to mind the deadly, unnavigable labyrinth of Cube, the pitch black subterranean tombs of The Descent and the inexorable despair of both. It will make you uneasy and uncomfortable, but its heart-pounding, nerve-shredding, claustrophobic terror also imbues you with a kind of adrenal masochism preventing you from looking away even for a moment.