Entering an Alligator-Infested Crawl Space During a Category 5 Hurricane: What Could Go Wrong?

July 19, 2019, 1:10 AM EDT

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Above: Official poster for the movie Crawl.

If the premise of a daughter attempting to rescue her father from an alligator-infested crawl space of a Florida home during a Category 5 hurricane sounds too ridiculous to make for a good movie, then you’ve just summarized a critical flaw of the new movie, Crawl. Crawl is an absurd and not very entertaining horror/weather disaster movie featuring a ridiculous plot, painful melodramatic dialogue, and bad meteorology, but with decent acting and good CGI special effects depicting a hurricane. Fans of the horror genre (which I’m generally not a fan of) will enjoy the film’s excellent pacing and shocking, bloody alligator action guaranteed to make you jump.

The main character in Crawl is Haley Keller (played convincingly by Kaya Scodelario), a competitive swimmer for the University of Florida Gators. After a swim meet, Haley talks to her sister, who is concerned that Category 5 Hurricane Wendy is about to hit Florida, and that their father (played by Barry Pepper), who lives in an evacuation zone in the fictional town of Coral Lake, is not answering his phone.

Haley is pretty nonchalant about the looming Category 5 storm, and against her sister’s protestations sets off on the two-hour drive to her father’s house to check on him—without learning any information about the storm, as far as we are shown. (You’d think a college student at a Florida school would at least consult the latest National Hurricane Center advisory, but noooo!)

Haley navigates around a roadblock to enter the evacuation zone, and successfully locates the house she grew up in, which is up for sale. With no sign of her father, but with his dog and cell phone showing he is there, Haley ventures into the house’s crawl space, which is conveniently lit up by an open brick-lattice structure that allows sunlight (and flood waters) in. (OK, so how many homes in Florida located on a coastal estuary connected to the water have a crawl space that allows flood water to freely circulate beneath the house? And why is all of the electrical wiring for the house casually dangling in the crawl space?)

It turns out that her injured father is sharing the crawl space with two large alligators with a super mean streak. As Hurricane Wendy’s rains begin flooding the crawl space, we are treated to a primal human/beast survival epic where Haley gets to show off her considerable swimming skills. (Spoiler alert: During the inspection for the sale of the home, you’d think someone would have discovered that the giant drainage pipe connecting the crawl space to the water had a broken grate, giving alligators free access to the crawl space! But noooo!)

Storm surge in the movie, Crawl
Figure 1. The impressively rendered storm surge from Category 5 Hurricane Wendy engulfing the fictional town of Coral Lake, Florida. Image credit: Paramount Pictures.

Category 1-level bad meteorology

Meteorologically, Crawl lacks the ridiculous level of bad meteorology in other major weather disasters movies like TwisterThe Day After Tomorrow, Hurricane Heist and Sharknado. Crawl’s scenes of clouds, winds, eyewall, eye, and storm surge are all rendered adequately using CGI. The movie cost $13.5 million to make, and those bucks helped pay for the decent special effects. Notably, the rendering of the storm surge is particularly well done, showing the surge as a rapid inundation of turbulent water that quickly rises to rooftop level. Nevertheless, there are a number of meteorological offenses in the movie:

- The winds never blow harder than about 50 mph in what is supposed to be a Category 5 hurricane, yet the hurricane delivers a 10 - 20-foot storm surge.

- Rescue helicopters are flying in the storm when it is at its peak, something extremely dangerous--if not impossible--to do.

- The scenes in the crawl space are lit up by sunlight during the height of the storm. Maybe Hurricane Wendy had triple concentric eyewalls with extensive moat regions between that allowed sunlight in? Hmm, highly improbable for a Category 5 hurricane.

- The flood waters flowing into the crawl space are remarkably clear--impossible hydrologically (but essential for horror movie scenes that need to clearly show swimming alligators with a healthy lust for blood.)

Comparison to other weather disaster movies

Surprisingly, Crawl is the highest-rated weather disaster movie ever catalogued by the aggregate critic ratings from the movie ratings site movie ratings site, Rottentomatoes.com. Here are the rottentomatoes.com weather disaster movie ratings:

84%: Crawl (2019)
82%: Sharknado (2013)
59%: Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
57%: Twister (1996)
44%: The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
39%: The Hurricane Heist (2018)
36%: Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015)
30%: Sharknado 5: Global Swarming (2017)
27%: The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time (2018)
20%: Into the Storm (2014)
15%: Sharknado: The 4th Awakens (2016)
13%: Geostorm (2017)

Overall: Crawl rates one-and-a-half stars out of four

The acting in Crawl is good by disaster movie standards, though there are the usual agonizing melodrama scenes. There are a number of moments of dark humor, but I could have done without the usual Hollywood level of extreme violence. In my book, Crawl is nowhere near being one of the best weather disaster movies of all time, which are Sharknado, Twister, and Hurricane Heist. I will concede that Crawl is better than the wretched Into the Storm and the forgettable Geostorm (I admit to have not seeing Sharknado 3, 4, 5, and 6, though). Overall, I give Crawl one-and-a-half stars (out of four.)

Sharknado in space
Figure 2. A memorable scene from Sharknado 3: after an anti-sharknado satellite-mounted laser weapon hurls sharks into orbit, one of the nasties gobbles up Fin, the hero. Image credit: Syfy.com.

After sharknadoes come zombie tsunamis

For those of you who were fans of the Sharknado series, the producers have evidently decided that they have milked that premise for all it is worth after six films. They've branched out into a new disaster movie genre: tsunamis with zombies riding on them. The star of the six Sharknado movies, Ian Ziering, is the producer and star of “Zombie Tidal Wave”, due to air as part of Syfy’s “Off the Deep End” weekend at 9 pm EDT August 17. Ziering will star as Hunter Shaw, a rogue, veteran sailor, as he contends with the ocean-borne zombie outbreak which threatens his seaside island community. Syfy promises that there will be plenty of bone-headed people who’ll no doubt make the task hilariously tougher than it should be.

My other weather disaster movie reviews

The Hurricane Heist Movie: Bad Meteorology on a Category 17 Level
Disaster Movie 'Into the Storm' is a Disaster
Can a Sharknado hit Los Angeles?

Have a great weekend, everyone—and stay cool and hydrated, those of you living in the heat zone, and The Onion has some advice that sounds very appealing!

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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Dr. Jeff Masters

Dr. Jeff Masters co-founded Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. in air pollution meteorology at the University of Michigan. He worked for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990 as a flight meteorologist.


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