About a month ago, I was in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, crawling through tunnels built by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Củ Chi is now a tourist area where anyone can experience in ten minutes what the Viet Cong endured on a daily basis, for years. Yes! You can, if you like, worm through tunnels barely larger than a smaller-than-average human body (at least by western standards). But, do you really want this experience? Do you really want to chance panicking underground and making a fool of yourself in public, all when you really don’t have to? Before you say, “Yes, I’d like to get down on my hands and knees, taking my chances in the 100 meters of a tourist’s sampling of Hell,” think again! Think again, because, as I experienced myself, Hell is exactly what it is! Being a tourist attraction, I thought the tunnel would be more tolerable, of greater circumference, and thus more doable for a smaller-than-average western man such as myself. Was I ever wrong! Combine this error of thinking with a fear of no escape in small places (aka claustropobia); the result is panic at its worst, and horror at its finest! Whether in Củ Chi, Vietnam or the tunnels of the sci-fi thriller Crawl or Die, Hell knows no boundaries.
I know that Crawl or Die has already been called “the most claustrophobic movie ever made” by the Japanese website Horrorshox. Damn right it is! And, what an obvious thing it is to notice! It would slap any reviewer in the face (like a Bitch), within minutes of the movie’s beginning.) Yes! I could have repeated that Horrorshox quote, attempting original words with the same effect, in some camouflaged way. But, Maybe that’s why I began this review with my experience in Củ Chi; maybe I knew the chances of another reviewer using a Viet Cong segway were as likely as me revisiting the tunnels, and, as they say, a snowball’s chance of staying frozen there. Yes! I knew my chances for originality in Củ Chi were pretty darned good! 😀
“Enough with originality and Viet Cong analogies!” you say. “Get the hell on with your review of Crawl or Die.” (“Review the film or die,” you may be thinking by now.) Yes I will, and with the title(s) is where I’ll start. For those who may not know, Crawl or Die was originally Crawl Bitch Crawl. That was the title when I originally “Liked” the movie on Facebook. For whatever difference it makes, I like Crawl Bitch Crawl better. (No, I’m not a misogynist, and I do not despise women; to the contrary, I elevate them above myself in most cases.) Crawl Bitch Crawl is just more crude, raw, and shocking, better fitting the tone of the movie and its story–a woman crawling away from death (sometimes clawing away with her fingernails), slower than the reaper behind her, needing to move ever faster. The more sensational title including “Bitch” is probably the reason I first noticed the movie and “Liked” it on Facebook; it’s probably also the reason I’m even reviewing it now. That title jumped out and grabbed me, pulled me in its face, and demanded attention. However, maybe that was the perfect strategy. Grab attention by shock; then, make it more palatable for everywhere else…including Walmart–the most out-there and everywhere place for all to buy it! Would Crawl Bitch Crawl have made the Walmart shelf? I’m not sure. But, Crawl or Die certainly does! Did the title change affect how much I like the movie? Absolutely not! I just had to get that out. What’s more about titles is that the movie’s Facebook page–“Crawl or Die Trilogy“–suggests there are sequels (or perhaps prequels) to come. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for that!
What’s all the crawling about? At an unknown time in the future (which looks like it could be today, making it more effective), Earth has been invaded by aliens and there is one (and only one) remaining fertile female not infected with the OVT Virus. This virus-free woman is simply called “Package.” For the purposes of humankind’s survival, she is exactly that and only that–a package to be delivered, at all costs, to a spaceship that will spirit her away. The destination is Earth 2–the proverbial mainstay of science myth, in this case, a known reality and last chance for survival. Nothing is more important than the package–the last woman on Earth who can become pregnant; everyone else is expendable. Except for the heroine in charge, the special forces team with the task looks much like what you’d see today, in your own hometown.
Yes! The fact that this could all be happening today, in hometown anywhere, gives Crawl or Die a punch in the face for its viewers. Nothing looks futuristic, the guns are all modern (automatic and semi-automatic projectile-firing weapons), the uniforms could be worn today by local law enforcement, and there are no confusing gadgets blinking and beeping with functions unknown. The lack of expensive props and sets surely also amounted to budgetary blessings for the filmmakers. Imagine that! A lower-budget movie is as (or more) effective because of its lower budget. Science fiction films often suffer from the opposite, but not Crawl or Die–at least not in a way that made a difference. The absence of a stylized Hollywood look made the movie grittier, more realistic, and less distracting. We see events in raw form, as we would see them in the real world, as if struggling through a hole in the earth ourselves. Here, we are focused on the heroine and her authentic reactions to danger, distress, pain, and death. A big-budget soundtrack, with synchronized highlights (telling us when to jump and be scared), is unnecessary here. Without it, we feel the fear naturally hear the isolation better. After all, do we really hear music and jump cues while worming through dirt, evading aliens, and breaking our fingers? No! We only hear, as we do, an alien roaring behind us…and the sound of our bones cracking!
“Yeah, she may be a bitch. But that’s one of the toughest chicks you’ll ever meet.” ~ Special Forces Officer
Just who is our heroine of distinction, our femme fatale of the tunnels? She is none other than Tank, played perfectly by Nicole Alonso. (Yes, there is a welcome homage to the comic series of Alan Martin and Rufus Dayglo and Lori Petty as Tank Girl in the 1995 movie!) Alonso not only plays the part, she kicks the genre’s ass, amplifying impact in every scene. Even with a Mohawk, combat boots, and a bad-ass attitude to match, Alonso’s beauty cannot be concealed; her pulchritude matches her skill as an actress to convince us. As she snakes through tunnels eventually no larger than her body, we feel we are there with her, but not as happy as we should be. Yes! Alonso eats dirt in Crawl or Die, and we as viewers feel it and taste it, as if we are there with her. Whether claustrophobic or not, you will feel the fear! Watching Alonso squirm through pipes, underneath rocks with barely room to slide if oiled, I squirmed with her; I wanted to look away not because the movie was bad or boring, but because Alonso did such a perfect job of putting me, the viewer, in the tunnel, afraid, confined, and terrified just like her. (The only difference is that Alonso, as Tank, handled it better than the bravest of men.) She is the one with whom we identify and in whom find humanity’s will to survive; she is the one we know and care about, because her fear, no matter how concealed, is like our own. Beneath Alonso’s Sigourney Weaver sexiness and strength is a scared human being, just like the rest of us; whether we see it or not, we know it. Her part played by anyone not owning it would have, quite simply, ruined the movie. Alonso owns the role, utterly; she reaches from the screen and drags you in. Leave your popcorn and peanuts on the couch!
Torey Byrne is the “package”–the last hope for a virus-free future for mankind and and the survival of the species. She is the womb that will populate Earth 2 with children to begin again. Byrne is, as her role calls for, withdrawn and without much personality acted out. However, in her eyes we see humanity that is familiar and gentle–the kind we want in a new beginning. Docile and reserved as she is, the spirit to live is within her, when the weaker would throw in the towel. With Torey Byrne, “Package” hangs in there, convincingly, with a force that transcends her generic character. Again, an actor who transcends the limitations of a role is an actor, indeed!
By now, I’m sure something has been said about the movie’s alien resembling the arguably greatest sci-fi monster in history–H.R. Giger’s masterful creation, from Ridley Scott’s certain classic Alien. Yes! I admit that there is a definite slick, monochromatic, bio-mechanical appearance to the alien in Crawl or Die. This alien’s jaws even extend and slobber corn syrup (or some other special effects substance) before making mincemeat of its tortured victims. However, the special effects team here has crafted a creature that manages, with all of its similarities, to be sufficiently different. The way it moved, extending its spidery appendages, with dagger-like claws, ready to impale its victims with exoskeletal force, is just enough to make it an alien of its own kind–or an Alien subspecies, at most. More than anything, I was worried about getting through that #@&%$, tight-@$$ tunnel, staying in front of it…and staving off the nightmares to come!
I rarely mention theme music in reviews, but here I must. The end song–“Rock with Me”– by Nikki (yes, also actor Nicole Alonso) is as addictive as claustrophobia is terrifying. (And I’m not joking!) I’ve replayed the end credits more times than I can count already, listening to Nikki sing it. Yes! I love this song as much as I hate being trapped in small places; and I will add it to my collection soon enough. It is rare that such a great, original song is part of an independent film with a tight budget; but, it is certainly a part of this one! Alonso’s combined talent as an actor and singer makes her a force to notice…and listen to. Look out, Hollywood! Nicole is here!
Crawl or Die is not just a movie about fear as a monster, if it is really about monsters at all. The alien creature, while a great addition to the plot (adding many reasons to “crawl or die”), is not the real source of fear. In this movie, tunnels are the true terrors. Monsters have trouble getting in our heads; they are not real, and we know it. Our adult minds build barriers against them. But tunnels–so tight that we cannot move to escape–trap us within our own fears of what is real…and truly terrifying. Watching Tank fight to move inches at a time, if at all, with the growls of a monster closing in fast, is horror defined. For these reasons, Crawl or Die is not only “the most claustrophobic movie ever made;” it’s also one of the scariest movies ever made. (I don’t know if anyone’s said that yet; but I just did.) 😀
When I first read the plot, I admit that I wondered if a 90-minute movie about crawling through tunnels could really be interesting. I wondered if too much of the same thing could really work, for so long. I wondered if I could find inspiration and purpose enough to write about such a focused topic, with scenes often literally in the shape of a pipe or hole. The answer to all of these questions is, “Yes!” (And isn’t that obvious, after reading so much already?) The answer is yes, again because it’s “the most claustrophobic movie ever made” and consequently, it’s #@$%&# scary!
“Should a situation arise, her pain, strain, cries or demands are of no significance…” ~ Mission Cammander
Could anything have been better here? Of course! There’s always room for improvement, and Crawl or Die is no exception. (Although none of it affected my love for the film.) In making the list, my first issue is with the audio, which is, no doubt, related to budget. A better sound system–one that eliminates unintended ambient noise–would have helped for starters. Amplifying and focusing sound more on the dialogue to make it easier to hear would have also helped; there were times when I was unable to hear a few things said. (But, of course, maybe that’s just more realism; I doubt you’d hear everything in the tunnels yourself, especially while being chased by an alien.) My only other suggestion is with the dialogue itself…at times. What was said was sometimes more generic than original, giving characters less personality than they deserved. For example, Tank, as the main character, could have spoke more, revealing more personality with words and tone. Even with limited dialogue, Alonso’s bold body language, pained expressions, and killer performance kicked butt to compensate. (Truly, this is the mark of a great actor.) Kudos to Alonso for that! My final point is small but worth mentioning, coincidentally about something happening later in the movie. By the time the unnamed special forces officer says, “Yeah, she may be a bitch. But that’s one of the toughest chicks you’ll ever meet,” we already know this very well! Although I love the quote (even including it in a cameo here), it seems tacked on in the movie and is certainly redundant. A simple deletion in the editing department could solve this–perhaps in a director’s cut! (Wink, wink!) Oh, and someday, change that title back to Crawl Bitch Crawl! 😀
Does Tank transport Package and her baby-producing womb to safety fast enough? Will Package produce enough little packages to populate Earth 2? Does humankind get a second chance at natural selection? Will Tank survive to see another tunnel? Or, will this tunnel be her tomb? If she survives, will she ever wear pants again? (Those booty shorts look just fine!) Will the aliens soon follow us to Earth 2, making everything pointless and futile (except for the sequels)? Will H.R. Giger’s influence follow humans to future homeworlds, inspiring generations of Package offspring to come? Some answers are for sequels (wink, wink), and others are for Crawl or Die. As for which is which, take your chances and see (or crawl) for yourself. The answers might surprise you. 😀
Writer/director Oklahoma Ward has crafted a terror tale tapping the deepest tunnels of human fear, to places we dare not go. Crawl or Die is the kitchen sink of sci-fi, horror, and psychological thrillers; there’s something in it for everyone, making even the bravest fair game. Fear, phobia, aliens, and viral pandemics infect and terrorize the mind, bringing nightmares to life. Ward’s tunnel-vision POV and on-the-spot camera pulls viewers off the couch and into the action; seconds from death, with the heroine herself, is where you’ll be. In-your-face closeups invade personal space, as all good horror should. Yes! In Crawl or Die, the main characters could well be Tank and you! Think twice before you enter those tunnels; be mindful of what’s behind you…and within you! The best horror movie is the one that confronts us with terror we know and fear that is real; Crawl or Die is that movie! Oklahoma Ward hits us, head on!
To this day, I would swear I heard someone behind me in Củ Chi yelling, “Crawl Bitch Crawl!” But, I think it was in Vietnamese. As I bumped my head on the ceiling and crawled faster, I didn’t give a damn if the words were real or imagined, English or Asian; I didn’t care if I was really a bitch or not, or if the words were really intended for me. All I wanted to do was get the hell out. One way or another, those words made me crawl faster. Thank God!
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As a bonus, check out this video of Nicole Alonso getting her head shaved for Crawl or Die, or as she says, “Crawl Bitch Crawl!”