Crawl (Alexandre Aja, 2019). To his credit, director Alexandre Aja clearly understands the lean and lowdown appeal of the premise to Crawl. With little fuss and effecticely shorthand character-building, Aja races headlong into the telling the story of a flooding Florida house during a raging hurricane and the hungry alligators that come sloshing in with the rising waters. Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) departs from her college swim team locker room to check on her father (Barry Pepper), a contractor on the coast. He’s had a nasty accident, trapping him in a roomy crawlspace under his house, and most of the film’s blessedly compact running time is devoted to Haley’s efforts to extricate herself and her pops from danger. Crawl has only modest aspirations (it’s a charming notion that Aja and his collaborations are offering profound commentary on climate change, but the film suggests the global calamity is little more than a handy gimmick for them), but it achieves its plain, rough goals with suitable verve.
Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry, 2019). Writer-director Alex Ross Perry reunites with his Listen Up Philip and Queen of Earth star, Elisabeth Moss, gifting the actress with the part of a wild child, indulgently self-destructive rock star. The film’s nineteen-nineties setting is only one part of the reason main character Becky Something suggest Courtney Love at her most dangerously unhinged. It’s a juicy part, and Moss tears into it with trademark gusto. The other performers are largely relegated to reacting with differing ratios of fury and exasperation. The film is admirably raw in its emotional content, and Perry has a remarkable patience with the most tender moments. In the end, though, the film is a character study stretched thin enough that holes rip open. Perry has interesting ideas, but not enough of them to fill up two and a quarter hours.
The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2018). Liam Neeson is back on the unwilling vigilante beat, put there by the Jaume Collet-Serra, the director who’s put him in that place repeatedly. At least The Commuter has a more offbeat angle that employs the everyman-in-extraordinary-circumstances tool from Alfred Hitchcock’s old kit. Riding the train home one day, Michael MacCauley (Neeson) receives an offer from a stranger who introduces herself as Joanna (Vera Farmiga). She asks him to draw on his old history as a police detective to sniff out which fellow passenger on the train who is smuggling a stolen item, promising him a big payday if he’s successful in his sleuthing. It becomes quickly apparent to Michael that there are nefarious operators manipulating the situation, and the film is is structured around his attempts to think and punch his way out of trouble. The Commuter is leaden and strained, as the filmmakers seem unwilling to charge ahead with the kind of freewheeling abandon that could take them into big, dumb fun territory.