Review: Crawlspace (2012)

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Cast: Amber Clayton, Eddie Baroo, Nicholas Bell
Director: Justin Dix
Country: Australia
Genre: Action | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Crawlspace opened in limited release on January 4th

“In this space everyone can hear you scream”. It’s a clever tagline atop the gorgeously old-style sci-fi poster for Crawlspace, at once inviting warranted comparison to the Alien franchise and suggesting the crippling claustrophobia so increasingly popular in modern horror half-breeds. Following an emergency Australian assault force deployed to an underground facility to terminate its escaped human test subjects, Justin Dix’s film—his first feature—has a keen sense of its own foothold within its several genres, its narrative essentially an emulation of Aliens with a dash of The Fifth Element and Serenity to boot.

Action is, at least initially, the primary concern of the movie, which echoes the spirit of The Raid in dismissing the need for excess exposition and instead throwing its weapon-laden combatants—and with them the audience—into the deep end.

crawlspace3Like Cameron’s film before it, Crawlspace works hard to enmesh action and horror within the shell of science-fiction, its efforts at the former—again, like Aliens—infinitely more successful than the latter. Neither film manages to be nearly as scary as it intends; in Dix’s case, his inexperience accompanies a wrong and wearying assumption that jump scares will suffice, his regular efforts to frighten with sudden loud noises running out of steam almost before the film has even begun. It’s fortunate, then, that his aptitude with action is far greater: he has a keen appreciation of gore, his script—co-written with Adam Patrick Foster and star Eddie Baroo—happily lopping off limbs and spewing blood through every tightly-paced action sequence.

Action is, at least initially, the primary concern of the movie, which echoes the spirit of The Raid in dismissing the need for excess exposition and instead throwing its weapon-laden combatants—and with them the audience—into the deep end. We are as clueless as Amber Clayton’s Eve, an amnesiac test subject who awakens amidst the carnage, to be immersed in this violence, an effective act of audience surrogacy that ties us to her as much as it does her to Leeloo and River Tam. It’s a convenience for Nix that she works as a character; she is perhaps the only participant in this narrative who engages on any meaningful level, the rest—both response team and trapped scientists—more traits and eccentricities personified than recognisable human beings.

Only four members constitute the division of the force we chiefly follow, yet even so small a group struggles to find distinction amidst the monotonous banter of which the dialogue is composed. Not a single “comic” line hits the intended mark, each serving only to further divorce these characters from reality and blur the already-thin lines between them.

crawlspace4So much of the lacking characterisation can be blamed on yet another approach adopted from Cameron: the fallacious propagation of one-liners amidst the annoyingly smart-talking team. Only four members constitute the division of the force we chiefly follow, yet even so small a group struggles to find distinction amidst the monotonous banter of which the dialogue is composed. Not a single “comic” line hits the intended mark, each serving only to further divorce these characters from reality and blur the already-thin lines between them. In his dramatic attempts, too, Dix struggles: an early death scene comes heaped with emotional relevance, yet the otherwise effective non-exposition here precludes knowledge of key relationship details until after the fact, rendering the sequence less an investing tragedy than a plot device.

That somehow Dix manages to emerge from the atonal chaos that is Crawlspace is indicative of just how much directorial promise he shows. The weaknesses of his script are forgiven in the strengths of his direction, his efficient cobbling together of suitably tense sound effects, a subtle score, and a clean editorial style. Never do these elements combine better than in a surreal sequence in which this facility’s strange experimentations inflict upon a character a terrifying hallucinatory experience to which Dix makes us privy. It’s the film’s sole sequence in which horror truly comes into play, and definitive evidence that this is a director who can work well when given the right material. Bulging with clichéd conventions of genres it struggles to understand, Crawlspace almost obscures this talent bubbling beneath its surface.

[notification type=”star”]45/100 ~ BAD. Bulging with clichéd conventions of genres it struggles to understand, Crawlspace almost obscures the talent bubbling beneath its surface.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.