CRAWL (15) Four stars

A father and daughter discover they are far from the top of the evolutionary food chain in Alexandre Aja’s diabolical masterclass in sustained tension and jump-out-of-seat scares. Set in Florida during a category five hurricane, Crawl is essentially Jaws with alligators, albeit with considerably more on-screen gore courtesy of the French director of the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

Michael and Shawn Rasmussen’s script is as lean and muscular as the apex predators, which eviscerate or death roll almost every character that dares to dip a toe into rising flood waters unleashed by Mother Nature’s fury.

The writers gleefully engineer a brutal and bloody battle for survival between sodden homo sapiens and voracious reptiles, steadily cranking up the suspense until we have no nails left to gnaw.

Stakes are high and no one is safe in Aja’s streamlined picture, a reality made deliciously apparent within minutes of a computer-generated alligator rampaging into view and dragging off a victim by the foot. West Sussex-born actor Kaya Scodelario, sporting a flawless accent between blood-curdling screams, is a spunky and instantly relatable heroine, whose flailing limbs would make a tasty snack for slavering reptilian jaws.

She plays Haley Keller, a member of the University of Florida’s intercollegiate swimming team – nickname, the Gators –who receives a concerned telephone call from her older sister, Beth (Morfydd Clark).

Hurricane Wendy is about to pummel the east coast and their father Dave (Barry Pepper) isn’t answering Beth’s calls to check he has evacuated the flood zone.

Haley defies the advice of local police and gingerly drives down rain-lashed back roads to find her old man at the family’s home in Coral Lake, which has been sold following her parents’ divorce.

Accompanied by a shaggy dog called Sugar, Haley explores the empty house and ventures into the basement, where she inches through sticky mud to discover Dave unconscious in the gloom.

He is bleeding profusely from a deep bite wound to one shoulder. Before she can raise the alarm, the terrified student comes face-to-snout with a hulking alligator, which has entered the underground space via a storm drain.

Running to a compact 87 minutes, Crawl is a hugely entertaining thrill ride, which invests just enough time establishing characters and their backstories before the carnage begins in earnest. Police officers and a trio of opportunistic looters are introduced as walking and splashing hors d’oeuvres to emphasise the power and speed of the alligators as Hurricane Wendy piles on the misery.

Action set-pieces are breathlessly orchestrated for maximum shock value and every time it feels safe to draw breath, Aja delivers an unexpected jolt to send popcorn skittering in all directions.

PAIN & GLORY (15) Four stars

Time has been a benevolent mistress to two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar.

The Spanish writer-director has mellowed with age and honed his craft behind the camera with tenderly observed character.

That personal touch serves him well in his self-reflective latest feature, Pain & Glory, a beautifully calibrated, semi-autobiographical memory maze, which reunites Almodovar with leading man Antonio Banderas.

The ravages of time on body and mind are a central theme in Almodovar’s script, which artfully stitches together key moments from a film director’s life as he prepares to go under a surgeon’s scalpel.

Banderas delivers one of the most compelling performances of his illustrious career, peeling back layers of regret and despair from a man in physical agony, who has temporarily forgotten the unabashed love of art and humanity instilled in him by his spirited mother.

Pacing is gentle as Almodovar draws on personal experience (pivotal scenes were shot in his real-life apartment) to inform the lead character’s haphazard journey to calling a truce with his past.

The best days of filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Banderas) are behind him as he stumbles, literally and figuratively, through middle age with crippling back pain.

When a local cinema hosts a screening of a newly restored print of Sabor, one of his most celebrated films, Salvador nervously extends the hand of friendship to its handsome star, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). It has been 30 years since the two men spoke after a stark difference of opinion about Alberto’s drug use. Salvador’s appreciation of his work was coloured by the faltering relationship and only now can he separate personal grief from creative glory.

“Your eyes have changed, darling. The film’s the same,” purrs old actor pal Zulema (Cecilia Roth). Salvador and Alberto’s awkward reunion, eased by deep inhalations of heroin fumes, sparks vivid memories of a bucolic childhood in Paterna, where nine-year-old Salvador (Asier Flores) orbited his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz). Pain & Glory is galvanised by Banderas’s understated yet powerful central performance.

ANGEL HAS FALLEN (15) Three stars

Gerard Butler reprises his role as gung-ho Secret Service agent Mike Banning in an action-packed sequel to Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen. Mike kisses his wife Leah (Piper Perabo) goodbye and heads to work alongside President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), who has abandoned the corridors of power in Washington DC for the peace and quiet of a fishing excursion.

A meticulously orchestrated drone attack decimates the security detail and almost results in Trumbull’s assassination.

When Mike regains consciousness after his ordeal, he is in handcuffs, accused of the attempted murder of the most powerful man in America.

FBI Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) intends to put him behind bars for life. Framed for a crime he did not commit, Mike is forced to go on the run to clear his name, with all of his former allies in hot pursuit. Unsure who he can trust, the fugitive turns to a most unlikely ally - his estranged, survivalist father Clay (Nick Nolte) - in his hour of need.


Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro produces this spooky horror. Horror-obsessed teenager Stella Nicholls (Zoe Colletti) and her friends visit the supposedly haunted home of the Bellows family. School bully Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams) locks them inside the house where they discover a book of scary stories.

Fiction bleeds into reality and the terrified teenagers repeatedly leaf through the book to discover their grim fates.