CRAWLSPACE (2022), not to be confused with the CRAWLSPACEs from 1972, 1986, 2012, 2013 or 2016, is a little thriller starring Henry Thomas. He plays Robert Mitchell, a friendly plumber in rural Oregon who witnesses a murder while he’s working in the crawlspace of a cabin, gets shot with an arrow while trying to run off, then finds a hidden bag of money they’re looking for, and it turns into a standoff.
While I wouldn’t exactly call it an action movie, there’s an undeniable DIE HARD element here: one man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, hiding in the structure of a (much smaller this time) building, injured, outgunned, using his wits and ingenuity to survive. But since it’s just a house he doesn’t need a walkie talkie to talk to the bad guys, they just yell and can hear each other through the floor.
And like John McClane he’s been going through it with his wife (Olivia Taylor Dudley, CHERNOBYL DIARIES). In their case it’s over some money shit, and it’s actually kind of the opposite of the issue the McClane-Gennaros are having: he’s not too pigheaded, he’s too nice, being very lenient and understanding of all the clients who owe him money even though he and Carrie are really hurting because of the new baby. They get snippy with each other, he says he doesn’t want to talk about it and storms off to work, now he’s worried he’ll never get a chance to apologize.
The other way he’s not like McClane is that he’s just not a tough guy at all. So he’s a different level of underdog and it’s surprising to everyone involved when he pulls off some violent retaliation using the tools at hand. It would be funny, of course, if Henry Thomas got buffed up and tried to do an action star role, but instead of that, instead of making him play against type, they use his innate Henry Thomas qualities so that he’s clearly been pushed over a line when he drills up into the floorboards and all the way through a guy’s cowboy-booted foot, and then when he lights a stack of hundred dollar bills on fire with a welding torch and tosses it up through a vent onto a trail of paint thinner that catches the guy’s leg on fire.
The criminal empire that these guys come from has to do with a lumber poaching operation. FBI agent Helen Masur (Catherine Lough Haggquist, ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM) comes to town to investigate “missing trees,” and is shown around by Deputy Jordan Pacer (Jennifer Robertson, Schitt’s Creek), local good ol’ girl who knows everybody. There’s something cool about the small-timeness of the story, but unfortunately the filmatism is much more generic DTV thriller than Coen Brothers. Instead of playing up the oddness of the crime they pile on the typical chunka chunka electric guitars and shit (score by Rich Walters, KRAKEN: TENTACLES OF THE DEEP) trying to tell you “these are some scary criminals! Like in the movies!” And the main guy trying to kill Robert, Sterling (Bradley Stryker, LET HIM GO, MAGAZINE DREAMS) wears a bandana as a headband and tries to talk tough like a standard movie criminal, and I really think it would be more interesting if he just played an area dipshit who got involved in a stupid crime. More menacing, too – the Elmore Leonard thing where being dumb makes him more dangerous. His partner Dooley (C. Ernst Harth, “Baby Boy Tremor,” SMOKIN’ ACES 2: ASSASSIN’S BALL) is closer to that, but played as comic relief redneck.
There is kind of a Leonardy moment when Agent Masur and Deputy Dooley approach a guy (Fletcher Donovan, TRAP HOUSE) at the lumber mill and are like “What the fuck!?” when he runs, because they honestly didn’t suspect him of anything. But again, the music tries to play it like a cool criminal in a cool action scene.
Oh well. I believe this story deserves more personality and careful modulation of tone, but it wasn’t my decision to make.
The good news is our plumber is under there figuring out how to use the torch to cauterize his wound, making a Freddy claw out of duct tape and drill bits, fun shit like that. In the tradition of UNDER SIEGE he gets people talking about him just being a plumber (yeah, well, I also plumb) and in the tradition of true cinematic greatness he gets a tough guy line comparing Sterling to a human waste product that he often deals with in his occupation. When Sterling gets yelled at by an accomplice for failing to kill this simple plumber, Sterling swears he’s gotta be ex-military or something. He’s seen the same movies we have so he assumes if somebody improvises a weapon they must’ve been on an elite special ops unit in Afghanistan. But no, he’s just a regular guy who works on septic tanks for a living but loves his family and can figure out how to make a welding torch shoot a bolt into a guy’s neck. Alos he has the dramatic flair to use a big plumber’s wrench for the final blow.
This is a movie that reminds us why Henry Thomas is great (not that we needed a reminder) and gives him some cool stuff to do that’s unlike any other movie I’ve seen him in. Otherwise, unfortunately, I don’t think it lives up to its potential. But thematically it goes in the opposite direction of where I thought it was going, and I very much respect that. It seemed to me a safe assumption that going through this whole ordeal would make him into the more assertive man Carrie wanted him to be. To the contrary, he retains his forgiving personality and Carrie follows his example, allowing leeway for people to pay him back (even though they’re all impressed by what happened and want to make good on what they owe). Don’t worry, they are rewarded for being “the good guys.”
CRAWLSPACE director L. Gustavo Cooper is a former pro skateboarder who got into filmmaking by making skate videos. The screenplay is by Jacob D. Wehrman, his only credit so far. Together they made a decent, not great movie, but I recommend it if you agree with me that Henry Thomas is always good. I found it on Paramount+. If you’ve got more time on your hands than that and/or higher standards, check out Mike Flanagan’s Fall of the House of Usher mini-series on Netflix, where Thomas has a real sleazoid turn that’s one of his best performances..