I personally find it difficult to be critical of a zero-budget, self made movie. It’s inspiring to see someone actually go for it, get something made, and get it distributed. On your own. At the same time there are so many low-budget affairs with big, lofty ambition that end up falling short because they have a lack of funding to execute. Crawl or Die is definitely one of these.
A military team are tasked with the safety and survival of the last fertile woman. They’re forced underground by a creature on a supposedly lifeless planet, and they have to travel through tunnels with muddy gaps every 50 feet or so. There isn’t much dialogue, or much in the way of story, or any character development, it’s just a simple tale of survival in the confinements of a claustrophobic doom.
I love creature features with a practical monster, those throwbacks to my youth. But therein lies the first major issue: the creature isn’t frightening. It’s not that there isn’t an effort to make it so, the design is effective — kinda like an alien Pegasus with a spider half in place of a horse. It’s obvious director Oklahoma Ward is a fan of Ridley Scott’s Alien, and not just because the creature’s head looks very similar and is always dripping wet. The only character you’re given much to care about is a badass named Tank (Nicole Alonso), a strong female in with a tight shirt and some skimpy undies. She’s got a natural presence and a memorable look to her.
The other main Alien reference is the tunnels, which bring to mind the crawling from the original and from James Cameron’s Aliens. For a self made affair there is a surprising amount of coverage and camera angles/placement to be found. It’s so tight in there that you really feel trapped, but that brings up another main problem: the editing. So many scenes cut together well and others feel like one-and-done takes from one angle leaving Ward (who also wrote and edited the feature) with nothing to cut to. Or maybe it’s an amateur editing mistake. The pace is awfully choppy, and the editing doesn’t help matters.
The sound design is quite good for the most part, but when it fails it’s during crucial moments like alien encounters. Somehow when the rest of the sound is aptly loud, when it counts things lack a punch and a real pop to bring the scene to life. Some sounds are missing, too, and when that fails the illusion disappears. Film is a visual medium, but it’s nothing without sound.
I truly believe Ward has a promising future given a more liberal cash flow with more time and talented assistance. He’s got a great eye and a talent for camera placement/blocking, and his influences are very evident. Sadly, Crawl Or Die comes up short given it’s intentions and goals. But on the plus side we get to stare at Nicole Alonso for 90 minutes, so not all is lost.