Once upon a time Australia was a hotbed of genre filmmaking bringing horror, action, sci-fi and more to the screen with an unparalleled sense of enthusiasm and energy. The high point ran through the ’70s and ’80s (covered affectionately in the entertaining as hell documentary, Not Quite Hollywood), but since then it’s been a fairly slow trickle of releases. Recent years have seen a step up in frequency and quality of crime films, thanks in large part to the Edgerton brothers’ Blue Tongue Films, and straight up horror, thanks in large part to large crocodiles, but what about the dark nuggets of sci-fi weirdness?
Enter the Crawlspace.
A military research facility in Australia goes silent so an elite squad of soldiers is sent in to investigate. As is prone to happen in top secret military labs doing god knows what with their experiments… things go a wee bit awry.
Just about everyone.
We see piles of bodies, arm cut off, heads shot, bodies shot, a buzz saw to the eye and one fellow’s noggin explodes.
Our leading lady spends time in a white tang-top, but aside from some dreamy flashbacks offering a glimpse of her saucy red bra that’s it for the sexy stuff.
Scientists are rarely up to any good.
In 1966 the US and Australian governments co-created the Pine Gap research facility in rural Australia, and it’s been operating in relative secrecy ever since. Contact with the facility was lost 15 hrs ago, so a heavily armed response team is dispatched to find out what went wrong. Running parallel to their arrival is a woman (Amber Clayton) with a sewn-up head who awakens in a ventilation duct with little to no memory of how she got there.
The squad has orders to kill the research subjects on sight, including the woman named Eve, but when the group finds her an interesting monkey wrench is thrown into the mix. She’s the squad leader’s (Ditch Davey) ex-wife.
That’s all you’ll get about the plot specifics from this review as it’s a solid setup that eventually builds to some crazy but cool revelations by film’s end. Writer/director Justin Dix has taken a well worn formula, a research lab catastrophe, and found some fun ways to tweak expectations. Unfortunately, he takes his sweet time getting to them.
Things start promising enough when the squad encounters their first enemy subject in the form of a… well, it’s a monkey wrench of another kind all together. It’s a well-paced and well shot scene mixing tension, effects and a real sense of WTF, and it most definitely leaves you wanting more. But more isn’t coming.
The film’s second act is like a low budget, sci-fi re-imagining of The West Wing as characters walk and talk their way through countless, near identical hallways/tunnels. Exposition is the name of the game here, and it grows more than a little tiresome and redundant.
It’s worth the drudgery though as the film’s final thirty minutes offers up some very cool twists and turns plot-wise as well as a few very choice action/effects scenes. Where the opening seemed a take on a general sub-genre, the third act tips its hat to some very specific films as its influences become quite clear. That’s not a bad thing though as the resulting turns of event are pretty cool and start coming at a fast enough clip that some of them may even be missed the first time around.
Crawlspace isn’t a wholly original take on the ‘science done bad’ subgenre, but some bloody good effects and a fairly sharp and fun third act make it worth a watch for fans of claustrophobic horror.
Crawlspace is available in select theaters, on IFC Midnight Cable VOD & Digital Outlets starting today