Jill escapes from the grip of a kidnapping-serial killer who kept her confined in a crawlspace under the house. Her courage brings lethal justice to the captor when the local marshal shoots and kills him upon confrontation. Jill struggles to reintegrate back into her local community in the aftermath, sleeping unconfined in the outdoors and withdrawing herself for social interaction, including from her weekly role playing game with friends. When Kristen moves back into her hometown from college, she aims to set up her therapy practice to assist families impacted by the serial killer as well as Jill by special request from the marshal, but Kristen’s rocky relationship with her substance abusive, off-Hollywood screenwriting husband on the mend drags out Jill’s much needed treatment. With Jill and Kristen preoccupied, they’re oblivious to the concealed threat that plots the next terrorizing exploit of kidnapping and tormenting young, beautiful women.
From under the grubby wooden floorboards to the strategic folding table of a role playing game, “The Girl in the Crawlspace” is the Midwest direct-to-video suspense thriller that tackles post-traumatic stress and marital strife while submersed in a looming trail left by a notorious mass murderer, written and helmed by first time director John Oak Dalton. Dalton, who has penned several low-budget grindhouse titles over the last decade and half, including titles such as “Among Us,” “Sex Machine,” and “Jurassic Prey,” returns once again to the genre with the repercussions of Podunk psychopath upon small town America, filmed in Indiana and release in 2018 hitting the ground running with film festival circuits. Indie filmmaker Henrique Couto, schlock horror director of “Scarewaves” and “Marty Jenkins and the Vampire Bitches,” signs on as producer, stepping back from his usual productional duties, and letting an occasional collaborator Dalton to completely engulf himself as the omnipotent auteur. Midwest Film Ventures serves as the production company, shot in Farmland, Indiana.
Erin R. Ryan has continuously sustained a low level hover on the indie horror radar after taking her in Dustin Mill’s “Bath Salt Zombies,” based on the Miami incident based on a naked man eating someone’s face induced by being high on bath salts, and the gooey-gory body horror, “Skinless,” that’s also a Mills production. Ryan expands her portfolio outside physical horror with Jill, a traumatized recluse derived from her abduction and torture, as a subdued component that’s contrary to previous roles, but Ryan capitalizes the opportunity of a scared kitten, recoiling from public gatherings, and slowly and silently emerging back into society while recalling chilling moments as the story progresses. However, there’s difficult pinpointing the head lead as the protagonist roles are shared between Ryan and depicted married couple, a pair of more Henrique Couto casted actors, in Joni Durian and John Bradley Hambrick as Kristen and her husband, John. Between the three, chemistry clicks better than cooking meth in a chemist’s unsanctioned laboratory and offer ample contention without the attending killer’s presence hanging over the whole town’s head. Rounding out the remaining cast is Chelsi Kern (“Scarecrow Count”), Joe Kidd (“Ouija Room”), Jeff Kirkendall (“Sharkenstein”), Clifford Lowe (“Scarecrow County”), and re-introducing Tom Cherry as the good old boy town officer, Marshal Woody.
With a title like “The Girl in the Crawlspace,” I would be remiss if I didn’t say there were some expectations of bodily torture, psychological terror, and teeth-clinching tension when sitting down to watch. The hype was high considering the post-after-post amount of positivity for “The Girl in the Crawlspace” on my Twitter feed. The catchy name and optimistic comments provided real temptation, but Dalton steers in another direction, the what follows in the state of everlasting shock and the reliving of moments seared into your psyche. The direction wasn’t as expected, but that’s necessary a bad thing. “The Girl in the Crawlspace” is exposition heavy with considerable amount of movie referencing peppered with some current event topics, such as the brief mentioning of killing of migrant children, throughout and continuously wanders off point, strolling more into Kristen and John’s crumbling marriage. Jill, the supposed centerpiece of the story, feels more like an afterthought, despite being the “girl” in “The Girl in the Crawlspace.” The cantankerous marriage supposedly jeopardizes those personally involved in Jill’s well-being as John exploits Jill’s idiosyncratic experiences from being a captive by turning them into inspirational junk food for his fading screenwriting career, but the catalyst incident doesn’t stick, becoming more of a weak opening for a more pronounced return of Jill’s haunting past.
From ITN Distribution and Mill Creek Entertainment, “The Girl in the Crawlspace” lands onto a not rated DVD home video release. The single layer DVD is presented in a full frame widescreen of an 1.78:1 aspect ratio. In a framing sense, Henrique Couto’s cinematography distinctly places small town in a spectrum view that highlights the soybean fields and farms, the rustic brick infrastructures, and the simplicities of a relaxed, old-fashioned town, using some drone shots to expose the green belt greenery. For an indie feature, the agreeable bitrate has a frank, clear image despite some consistent overexposure that softens details, especially on faces in the outside scenes. The Dolby Digital stereo 2.0 mix has also agreeable dual channel output. Some of the dialogue scenes suffer through an echo, but for the majority, the lines have clarity and unobstructed by ambient layers or the soundtrack. The depth discloses some distant ambiguities, such as in a train shot that’s not rendered in the background as it should, but the amount of range is palatable. English SHD subtitles are available. The only bonus features available on the release are the theatrical trailer and an commentary with producer Henrique Couto and director John Oak Dalton regarding their history together and going through the shot techniques as well as touching upon the actors. The road to recovery is paved in nightmares, psychological terror, and Midwest psychopaths in “The Girl in the Crawlspace,” but pitches away from the principal concern that turns second fiddle to one struggling screenwriter’s difficult assimilation into rural life while simultaneously rethreading a floundering livelihood and a tattered marriage.