Goofballery is the name of the game in Crawlers, and what a fun game it is. Hulu’s holiday horror-themed Into the Dark follows up last month’s abusive relationship screed My Valentine with a St. Patrick’s Day romp. Set in a quaint college town, Crawlers lets its young academics cut loose before unleashing shape-shifting aliens on them. Crawlers is silly, paced like the world’s most chaotic rush weekend, and it’s a blast. It’s the platonic ideal of what the anthology series can be. It marries a simple concept with the energy of a scrappy low-budget movie and a game cast. Crawlers won’t unseat The Thing or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it pays homage to its forbearers and is a decent genre exercise in its own right.
DIRECTOR: Brandon Zuck
A St. Patrick’s Day celebration in a small college town is interrupted by an alien invasion.
Right from the jump Crawlers lets its audience know exactly what’s going to happen and where it’s headed. The film opens on a YouTube stream by Shauna (Giorgia Whigham) explaining how one year ago aliens appeared in the quiet town of Emerald Springs and killed a lot of people. Once she tells viewers what they’re about to see, Crawlers jumps back to the beginning to show the mayhem. With Shauna as the guide (she delivers quippy, sarcastic narration throughout), the audience knows it’ll be in the hands of a least one survivor. Because of this approach, the film immediately loses the potential to inflict true terror. That’s fine since director Brandon Zuck and writers Catherine Wignall and Mike Gan aren’t interested in that. The benefit of this approach is it allows viewers to sit back and just go on the ride.
Aside from Shauna, the other characters are Misty (Pepi Sonuga), Chloe (Jude Demorest), Yuejin (Olivia Liang), and Aaron (Cameron Fuller). Misty functions as the co-lead of the story. Between her friendship with Chloe and rocky history with a frat guy, Misty has drama she needs to work through. Any pathos Crawlers achieves is through Misty. She’s riddled with self-doubt because she isn’t sure where she stands with Chloe and consumed with anger toward Michael, with whom she shared a night she can’t remember. The script does an interesting thing with this dichotomy. Misty talks through her Chloe issues often, giving viewers a clear line on how she processes things. And the script likewise sets up a Believe Women situation, which pays off nicely in a later scene with Misty.
While Misty fuels Crawlers’ emotional throughline, it’s Shauna who drives the action. Those who stick with her are in good hands because Shauna’s life has prepared her specifically for this moment. Courtesy of her mother, Shauna has heard all about the meteor that hit Emerald Springs decades earlier, as well as the ensuing government cover-up regarding aliens. Shauna has been steeped in conspiracy theories like tea. Between her upbringing and her current job as a small-time drug dealer, Shauna packs both a healthy distrust of everyone as well as a clear-eyed view of social dynamics. Shauna’s alien knowledge also allows Zuck to cut some narrative corners. Every bit of information Shauna shares goes unchallenged. So when she explains the “kill-the-queen-to-kill-the-hive” theory or how the aliens communicate, everyone plows forward.
Overall, that go-with-the-flow mindset serves Crawlers well. The premise is noticeably derivative, so giving the audience less time to dwell on the details can only help. And less time spent on exposition means more time for the characters to interact, which is the film’s strength. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast (which the outtakes that play during the closing credits verify). It’s endearing and infectious. As Shauna and Misty, Whigham and Sonuga carry the film. They sell every big moment and without them, Crawlers is a lesser film. Fuller stands out among the supporting roles. As the president of a fraternity, Aaron is set up to draw the audience’s ire from the start. The fact that Aaron is likable at any point is a credit to Fuller’s performance.
Crawlers is a film that knows its limits, strengths, and how to play to each. Zuck keeps the film on track and barreling toward its satisfying conclusion. Everything that happens may be as obvious as the film’s green-soaked color palette, but that isn’t a hindrance to having fun. Like the St. Paddy’s Day parades and parties that will pop off soon, fun is priority No. 1. As long as the audience is entertained, a film’s shortcomings don’t matter so much. With a series that is inherently uneven, 80 minutes of amusement is nothing to turn your nose up at.