The Coen Brothers, in particular “Blood Simple” and “No Country for Old Men”, are evoked in “Crawl”, an Australian shot suspense thriller revolving around a hit gone wrong in a small outback town. Furthering Coen comparisons, the film was also a fraternal affair, written and directed by Brit Paul China and produced by his brother Ben China, marking their debut. Originally released in 2011 and having played at a variety of genre festivals, including Screamfest in the US, where it picked up several awards, the film lands shortly on region 2 DVD and Blu Ray via Arrow Films.
The film kicks off with a laconic, nameless Croatian hitman (George Shevtsov) casually knocking off a garage owner at the behest of seedy nightclub owner called Slim Walding (Paul Holmes) over a business falling out. Although the killing and payoff seem to go exactly as planned, on his way out of town the hitman has a car accident involving the fiancé of waitress Marilyn Burns (Georgina Haig, from the television series “Fringe”), and ends up taking her hostage at her remote house. Things quickly go from bad to worse, and the double crosses and bodies start to pile up, as they usually do.
The Coen Brothers influence is abundantly clear from the very first frames of “Crawl”, with the opening sequence of the hitman and the garage owner being very reminiscent indeed of “No Country for Old Men”. From there, China attempts to pull off the same mix of quirkiness, black humour and tension seen in “Blood Simple” and other Coen films, working in an oddball supporting cast and a variety of amusingly leftfield touches here and there. The films narrative technique is also rather familiar, with much being left up to the viewer to discern, and there being a handful of subplots which purposefully never go anywhere, most notably relating to the nature of the dispute between Slim and his former friend. All this dresses up what is essentially a very simple story indeed, as the film basically just consists of build-up in the first half, and then Haig being menaced by Shevtsov at her home in the second.
Sadly, China is not as talented a director as the Coens, and the film never really manages to come across as much more than a fairly spirited tribute act, the main problem being its lack of any real tension. Although China certainly tries to keep things taught, sadly he relies far too much simply on having his characters move as slowly as possible, and on throwing in countless creaking floorboards, twisting doorknobs and other genre clichés. Rather than making the film gripping, this has the unfortunate effect of dragging down the pace, with many scenes feeling needlessly stretched out, not least since there’s a fair amount of daft behaviour on show – even at only an hour and twenty minutes long, it’s all a bit drawn out. The film at times feels like China is slavishly repeating tracts from the textbook of suspense, though without much heart or context, and this gives the film a mechanical air, not helped by Christopher Gordon’s well-performed, though very derivative Herrmann-esque score.
Still, this is perhaps a little harsh on a debut, and as the first feature of a director finding his feet and trying out what he knows, “Crawl” is a pretty solid offering. Certainly, it looks good throughout and is generally quite nicely shot, far more so than other independent or straight to DVD offerings. China also manages to get decent performances from his cast, Georgina Haig in particular, and though there’s not much to the script, it has a few effective moments scattered throughout.
On balance, this is about enough to make “Crawl” a reasonably entertaining watch, at least for genre fans happy to see a Coen Brothers re-tread. China does seem a talented helmer, though hopefully his second feature will see him trying something a little less familiar and less by the numbers.
Paul China (director) / Paul China (screenplay)
CAST: Andy Barclay … Travis
Paul Bryant … Sergeant Byrd
Lauren Dillon … Holly
William Garvey … Gus Summers
Georgina Haig … Marilyn Burns
Paul Holmes … Slim Walding