Every few weeks Joe (@bstolemyremote) and Terry (@gaylydreadful) discuss an episode of Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into The Dark series, alternating between our respective sites — queerhorrormovies.com and gaylydreadful.com.
For this inaugural edition, we’re checking out season two’s March entry, Crawlers.
Episode 2.06: Set on Saint Patrick’s Day – a night of wild parties and drunken revelry – Crawlers follows three unlikely friends who band together to save a college town from a vicious horde of body-switching aliens.
Welp, Terry, we may have made the wrong decision to jump into ongoing coverage of Blumhouse’s Into The Dark series with this particular entry, because Crawlers (the March/St Patrick’s Day entry) is…real bad!
I’ve been following the series since its inception, but I haven’t been a really avid fan. I mostly duck in and out, checking out the entries by folks that I know (Nacho Vigalondo’s Pooka, Sophia Takal’s New Year, New You and Carter Smith/Erlingur Thorodssen’s Midnight Kiss). The complaint that I see from folks who are consistently sampling these standalone features is that the premises tend to be a little threadbare, which results in soggy pacing and runtimes that feel laborious.
Alas, all of those issues (and more!) are present in Crawlers, which is basically The Faculty on a shoestring budget, minus the Kevin Williamson dialogue or the Robert Rodriguez direction. Seriously, those two should have their lawyers on speed dial because this whole film is lifted wholesale from that superior 1999 film, right down to the freeze frame, graffiti-scrawled character names whenever someone new is introduced.
All things considered, the direction by first time feature director Brandon Zuck is okay – minus attempts to create any kind of scares or tension and if we can overlook the aforementioned egregious use of freeze frames. If we’re disseminating blame, though, one need not look further than the lazy and cliched script by Catherine Wignall and Mike Gan (from a story idea by Wignall).
The premise is decidedly simplistic: the residents of the small St. Patrick’s Day-obsessed town of Emerald Springs are assimilated by aliens when their hive-mind nest is threatened by a holiday-themed pub crawl. There’s some minor personal drama, but the main characters are thinly drawn (dangerously so considering we’re spending 85 minutes with a small group and have absolutely zero investment in any of them). This includes local paranoid alien conspiracy theorist/drug dealer Shauna (Giorgia Whigham), who provides endless voice over narration throughout the ENTIRE film, and – even more glaringly – an inept sexual assault backstory for (maybe?) protagonist Misty (Pepi Sonuga).
Initially it seems as though Wignall and Gan plan to venture down the same path as Blumhouse’s recent feminist remake of Black Christmas, which explored the intersection of sexual violence, fraternity and supernatural events. Any kind of serious investigation in Crawlers, however, it immediately becomes evident that Misty’s tragic history is merely a narrative shortcut to establish the unhealthy relationship she has with her bestie Chloe (Jude Demorest). The bitchy girl not only doesn’t believe Misty; she has outright given up on their friendship due to Misty’s recent “funk” (read: trauma), moving on to bitchier, more cosmopolitan Yuejin (Olivia Liang), who, we’re informed by Shauna, has a large wardrobe in Chloe’s size.
Were the narrative interested in exploring the damaging effects of toxic female friendships, this would be one thing, but Crawlers never comes to this realization. The cathartic/climactic moment when Misty finally realizes that Chloe is not a good friend comes about not over the sexual assault, but because Chloe “would never tell her what she wants to hear”. And even that limp resolution is undercut by yet another obnoxious video blog from Shauna, who proceeds to spout off more gibberish about invading aliens, confirm that she is casually dating not-rapist fraternity hottie Aaron (Cameron Fuller) and call the audience bitches.
Terry, tell me that I’m not being overly sensitive about Crawlers lazy and dangerously blasé use of sexual assault as a character backstory? Did you also find the film’s seemingly endless number of freeze frames and voice-over narration a terrible creative decision? And how much should we take Crawlers to task for its laughably empty nest/warehouse climax considering this is a low-budget film?
You and I have about the same experience with Into the Dark, though I’ve seen more episodes than you (Pooka, New Year, New You, All That We Destroy, Culture Shock and Midnight Kiss). They’ve been a mixed bag and all of them felt like a Twilight Zone episode stretched to feature length, but they’ve all had interesting ideas humming along under the surface. The same cannot be said for Crawlers, from where I sit.
This was the first of the films that I could easily point out the act breaks because they were typically interrupted with Shauna’s fun-until-it-wasn’t YouTube clips. The first act actually had my interest with its fun and snappy bar crawl narrative hook…that never pans out. You mention it’s a ripoff of The Faculty and I’ll admit it’s been too long since I’ve seen it to have an opinion on it, but that’s not the only superior film Crawlers pulled from.
The setup reminded me a little of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End in its bar-crawl-cum-body-snatching except that it has little interest in using the premise to explore its characters. It also reminded me of Night of the Creeps where an object crashed in the past (1959 in Creeps, 1979 in Crawlers) that ends up affecting/turning people in the present. Finally, there are also elements of The Thing, complete with a test to see if someone is actually an alien.
It’s just that none of this is particularly interesting or exciting. And the premise definitely outstrips the budget, like you mentioned, with the completely empty finale. As you said, it’s laughable. I’m willing to take it task because they could have done something differently to work within the budget. Jeremy Gardner’s been doing it for three features.
As for the blasé use of sexual assault…oof.
People that complained about Black Christmas (2019) need to watch this to see how much better that film handled a tricky subject. From the “congratulations for not being a rapist” to “you get a chip for each woman you manage to convince you’re not a monster?” to the ultimate decision that Aaron is just a “doofus,” the dialogue is painfully on-the-nose. With the exception of “Uh yeah, hi believe women it’s 2020”, Crawlers felt woefully ill-equipped to tackle the subject matter.
I don’t know, Joe. This is easily the worst episode of the series that I’ve seen. Did you find anything positive about it?
I wish I could say that I appreciated the effort made to bring in the holiday spirit, but that mostly amounts to everything being constantly awash in garish neon green lighting that eventually just becomes an eyesore.
I wish I could say that the action is entertaining, but there’s virtually none here. As we’ve mentioned, the climax is hilariously sparse (something the characters even refer to, which is…a choice, I guess). Even a brief chase scene when Misty is attacked in the frat house occurs so quickly that it’s barely possible to even discern what – or who – is coming at her, and then the aftermath is handled off screen.
I wish I could say that the dialogue is clever or snappy. You mentioned Shauna, but after the first few interruptions, each time she cut in with some kind of bitchy rejoinder I just seethed because it’s so intrusive and off-putting.
So what else is there?
Well…the boys are frequently shirtless and despite the oddly 90s “boy band” vibe his streaks give off, Fuller is pretty cute. So I guess there’s that?
This was a rough go, Terry. Let’s hope our next foray is a little stronger.
Next time: we’re hopping over to GaylyDreadful to give another March entry of Into The Dark a try as we sample 2018’s Treehouse starring Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz.