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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rogue (2007) review

ROGUE 2007

Radha Mitchell (Kate Ryan), Michael Vartan (Pete McKell), Sam Worthington (Neil Kelly), John Jarratt (Russell)

Directed by Greg McLean

Radha Mitchell (left), Sam Worthington (middle), Michael Vartan (right). Worthington has since become a rising star in US action films

A group of tourists, including an American travel writer, embark on a holiday excursion into the Australian Kakadu National Park. Taking a detour after spotting a flare, the tour boat is damaged by something big under the water. The group are then forcibly stranded on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. With the tide coming in and darkness approaching, the mud caked atoll begins to sink. The dwindling survivors attempt to make it to dry land and escape the forest alive.

For whatever reason, movies involving gi-normous Crocodilia have never fared well theatrically, but seem to find much better appreciation on the small screen. Even going back to 1980's ALLIGATOR, that film came and went rather quickly without much fanfare, but that was due in part to an odd decision by the producer. Still, that film became a massive success for ABC. Since then, any movie that featured a killer crocodile either went straight to disc, or television via the (then called) Sci Fi Channel such as Tobe Hooper's CROCODILE and BLOOD SURF (both 2000). Even the quirky big studio production of LAKE PLACID (1999) failed to generate much interest despite a healthy ad campaign.

Vartan inside the crocodiles corpse ridden lair

Foreign territories also got in on the act. Thailand with CROCODILE (1979) and it's obscure sequel. Then there's Italy's own BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER (1979) from Sergio Martino and Fabrizio De Angelis' KILLER CROCODILE (1989) which also got a sequel directed by ace effects artist, Gianetto de Rossi. In regards to McLean's mesmerizing rendition of JAWS (1975), there had already been an Aussie killer croc flick from 1987; the uniquely plotted DARK AGE. It's quite possibly the single most creative film of the 'croc amok' subgenre story wise. Alongside ROGUE, Australia also unleashed another recent crocodile horror/survival picture with the minimalist, but effectively suspenseful, BLACK WATER (2007).

After his nasty debut with the searingly savage slasher/torture film, WOLF CREEK (2006), McLean returned with this, a film near and dear to his heart about a monster reptile hunting humans. It was a long battle for this subtle, but ambitious monster movie throwback to make it to the big screen. Fan anticipation was high for McLean's follow up, but it was beaten to the punch by the far less enthusiastic PRIMEVIL (2007). The makers of that film couldn't even be bothered with advertising their film as a monster movie opting instead to falsify it as a slasher flick.

The giant croc makes off with one of the first victims

That movies poor performance aided in ROGUE being put on the shelf by a seemingly nervous Weinstein company, only to receive a very limited release before being dumped unceremoniously on DVD. Sadly, the film did poorly even in its home country. The Weinstein's release bore a DVD cover that totally screams "Sci Fi Channel premiere". The original poster artwork was frightening and eerily realized, being a modern take on the classic poster for JAWS (1975).

The stranded tourists attempt an escape

McLean's picture is a love letter to the onslaught of killer animal movies that populated the 1970's with a special nod towards Spielberg's JAWS. Those 70's films themselves being a revival of the numerous similar atomic creature movies of the 1950's. Just as those movies belonged in the 'Siege' style of suspense/horror opuses, ROGUE puts its people in peril not in a house, a cabin, or other such construct, but on a rapidly sinking atoll. McLean takes his time getting to the good stuff, but it's well worth the wait. There's also a nice bit of foreshadowing (an ugly spider prepares to feast on a bug caught in its web) as the boatload of tourists make their way into the monster crocodiles domain.

Not only that, but the film has some of the most sprawling, awe inspiring cinematography in any film of recent memory. These sequences perfectly capture the beauty and majesty of the Australian locations. The inherent dangers notwithstanding, DP, Will Gibson (who encores for McLean from WOLF CREEK) captures some notable shots of the vast Aussie landscapes.

The tourists trapped within the monsters territory, itself swallowed up by the surrounding desolation of the vast expanse of wilderness and mountain regions.

The score by Frank Tetaz is also noteworthy and adds a whole other layer to these photographic marvels. It also greatly augments the suspense scenes especially the last ten minutes.

The croc effects are also the finest this monster subgenre has yet to see. Even the CGI shots are very well done and mix perfectly with the handful of animatronic shots. The croc also doesn't move at lightning speed as other creatures have done in other similar movies. It moves fast, but in a far more believable fashion. The finale within the gore addled lair of the beast is one of the best edge-of-your-seat conclusions to come along in a long time. I also particularly enjoyed the demise of the monster. It avoids the tried and true method of "Blow'em up real good" that so many other rampaging animal movies incorporate.

Although a good many of the people trapped by the huge reptile manage to escape, the handful of casualties come as a bit of a surprise. Some of the characters die that you don't necessarily expect. The film has all the proper creature fodder found in past horror movies of this type, but not all of these die a spectacularly gruesome death. With so many great qualities, it's mind boggling that this production has been neglected as the superior horror film it truly is. One of the best this subgenre has to offer, it should have gotten more of a theatrical showcase than the limited run the Weinstein's gave it.

Understandably, the film lacks any major action set pieces that moviegoers come to expect these days, particularly those that worship at the alter of the all mighty Hollywood blockbuster. While not counting the wonderful conclusion, the film mostly takes place at its one central location. ROGUE plays fine on the small screen, but I would have loved to have gotten the opportunity to see it in a darkened theater. As it is, it's an eye opening, frequently scary trip into the unknown territory of the Australian boonies that no fan of the killer animal subgenre should pass up.

This review is representative of the Dimension Extreme Unrated DVD.


J. Astro said...

You're spot on with this review, pal. ROGUE is the shit! A truly worthy killer croc flick that defied expectations in plenty of ways.

venoms5 said...

This one was dedicated to you, J! After reading your write up of CROCODILE, I figured I'd go ahead and get this one up.

Fazeo said...

Thank you for the review of Rogue. I was really curious about this film since I love films with crocs and gators in them, even Big Alligator River. Plus my girlfriend seems to be obsessed with Sam Worthington lately so if I get this DVD I can kill two birds with one stone so to speak. :)

venoms5 said...

You're very much welcome, Fazeo. I wish I could get my gf to watch this movie, but for whatever reason, she doesn't care for horror movies of the 'Nature Gone Wild' variety. Any number of new crap vampire flicks are okay, though.

I am also a fan of BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER. I admit, it's a bit slow in spots, but I enjoy it quite a bit probably due a lot to nostalgia after seeing it on late night TV in the early 80's.

R.D. Penning said...

Great review man! I like this movie alot. I have been let down over and over again through the years with some bad 'Nature Gone Wild' flicks, but this one I really enjoyed.

venoms5 said...

I agree with you, R.D. ROGUE is easily the best of its kind to come along in a looooong time. A shame it got the treatment it did. McLean is definitely a talented director.

Carl (ILHM) said...

So I have to be the odd man out and be the one that hated ROGUE (cinematography aside)? I thought it was a total bore with weak deaths and a ridiculous climax. I prefer PRIMEVAL over this one 10-1 surprisingly even to myself

venoms5 said...

Damn, Carl, ridiculous climax?? What a croc! Ha!

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