the cut opinion pages

Personally, I Wouldn’t Taunt the Monster

Photo: Sergej Radović/© 2019 Paramount Pictures Corporation

Over the weekend, a friend and I split an edible and saw the movie Crawl, which I can’t recommend highly enough. It has the exact formula of summer blockbuster I love, which is: aggrieved human fights implausibly large animal, and (also implausibly) wins. The star of Crawl is Kaya Scodelario, whom I know best for playing the hot and emotionally troubled Effy on Skins. During the movie, I successfully forgot that Scodelario is British, which, to my mind, means she did an incredible job. She also managed not to make her pained cries sound sexual, which is a frequent pitfall of the genre when the director is a man and the protagonist is a woman.

The best (and worst) thing Scodelario does in Crawl, though, was highlighted in the trailer: trapped inside a walk-in shower in a rapidly flooding bathroom with a ten-foot alligator swimming in angry circles just outside the plexiglass door, she opens the door, and screams “Come on, you son of a bitch!”

The trailer doesn’t reveal how Haley (Scodelario) escapes this situation, but let me assure you that it is preposterous. Which is fine. The whole point of these movies is for the hero to survive unsurvivable conditions, which is why I like them: I can sleep easy afterward, knowing that I will never put myself in their position. In every summer monster movie I recognize the moment in which I’d quit. In Crawl, it’s about ten minutes in, when the local cop she knows from her childhood says Haley should turn her truck around, because there’s a hurricane going on, and it’s too dangerous to go looking for her dad. That’s where I’d stop. I’d say, “Okay! You’re in charge.” Sorry, Dad.

Of course, that’s a bad movie, so I’m glad there are people who’d carry on in situations like these, as well as the tough guys who like to pretend they’d carry on even if they wouldn’t. Good for Haley for going into the old family house in search of her dad. I understand why, when she’s there, she feels she must continue into the crawlspace. What I can neither understand nor condone is why she must scream at the alligator, and call him a son of a bitch.

This happens all the time in these movies. People calling sharks “motherfuckers” and whatever, as if they can understand what you’re saying, or take it personally. It’s supposed to help vilify the animal, I think, and solidify Us vs. Them, but it’s really embarrassing if you think about it for more than two seconds. Imagine calling a lion, like, “an idiot. Is there anything sadder? Is there any trope which more rapidly reveals humanity’s essential grandiosity? You think what — that because you can say a swear, the 800 pound alligator is going to back off?? It’s pathetic. (At one point Haley’s dad also calls the alligators “pea brained lizard shits,” which made my friend and I absolutely lose it, though that may have been the edible’s fault, because nobody else laughed.)

In the movies, this is the moment just before the hero kills the beast with a harpoon through the eyeball or something. (Though in Crawl, what ensues is more like a very temporary entrapment.) But if we suspend disbelief for just a moment, and we accept that we, too, might one day face off against a giant, bloodthirsty animal, don’t you think you … wouldn’t want to yell at it? I think that if I were in the shower in the flooding bathroom, and there was an alligator outside, I would try to be very quiet, and I would hope that it would leave. (I would never be in the shower in the flooding bathroom!!!!)

I can’t pretend I’d have any great ideas in a situation like Haley’s, or any of the other movies in which something like this happens. I am simply not cut out for it. But what I would not do is call the alligator a son of a bitch, and then invite it into the shower with me. That is just asking for it.

Personally, I Wouldn’t Taunt the Monster