I tend to bristle somewhat at the overuse or misuse of some terms when it comes to films and the movie industry. One of the more common ones is ‘rip-off’ as in something is a rip-off of something else. This, to me anyway, seems to suggest that a direct, blow-by-blow copy of parts or a whole of another piece of material had occurred and that the new film is only a collection of harvested parts from those previous film(s). So in it purest form, a rip-off should be so blatant (see Transmorphers, The) that it is amusing, so bad that it is obnoxious and so lame that it doesn’t warrant much more than a scoff. Outside of that type of situation, I don’t think the term is very useful. I think you can clearly identify that ideas are stolen from film to film but, that is a totally different, very nuanced grey area that spans the bulk of movie history.
I say this because some of the press I read about Paul China’s Crawl over the last bit of time seemed to suggest that it was nothing more than a hackneyed ‘rip-off’ of the Coen Brothers and Hitchcock. Having now seen it and digested it for a couple days, I don’t think you could consider it a rip-off by any means and is instead an interesting, if not basic, mean little thriller about lousy timing and poor choices.
That is not to say it isn’t dripping with visual cues from both the Coens and Hitchcock. It is. You’ll find them in the form of odd camera angles, lingering straight shots and silent character interaction beyond the point of comfort. Further, the setup of the story of Crawl and the characters themselves do seem familiar in a lot of ways to great noir and thriller films across the spectrum. I think this helps the film however, not hurts it. These directorial choices give a visual dynamic that is not only interesting but unsettling too without seeming solely like a rehash of better material.
The story centers around a waitress (Georgina Haig, previously in Road Kill) working at a bar for a seemingly bottomless-pit-of-seedy-behavior owner (Paul Holmes) who is involved, beyond just basic reasons, with an intense, nearly wordless Croatian cowboy killer type-a guy (George Shevtsov – an amazing, craggle-faced character actor who should have had 10 times the work he’s had in his career). The twists and turns of the rest of the story and how the bar owner, the cowboy, the waitress, her boyfriend all fit together initially and overlap after it progresses is better brought together by the film itself. There is one glaring plot hole around the middle that I can’t really get past in my mind now that I’ve had a couple of days to marinate on it. Beyond that it is an enjoyable, mean bit of thriller/noir horror that fits right in with the pantheon of dark rides from the Australian film community. It is, at times, quite bloody and unpleasant and others just plain weird but holds together very well as a singular thought.
(Since we’re talking about Australian crime/thriller things, if you’ve not seen Nash Edgerton’s 2008 film The Square – get out and get it as soon as you’re able. It was one of my favorite films of its year and absolutely deserved a best screenplay nomination – really really good)
One other thought I had – the film’s title, Crawl, could be meant to suggest a number of symbolic or maybe just straight forward things related to the film. I don’t want to go into them but three straight forward ones are pretty obvious in certain scenes but I was thinking that maybe the title had more to do with the slow move toward the next thing in life. As in, no matter your goal(s) in life (in this film) whether they be virtuous, murderous or otherwise, you move at a crawl from one to the next with little control over it. Planned or accidental, the crawl is inevitable and in the context of the three scenes in the film, is even more meaningful. Course, I could be reading way too much into it, but, it was a thought anyway.