Starring Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan, Sam Worthington, John Jarratt, Caroline Brazier, Robert Taylor, Stephen Curry, Celia Ireland, Heather Mitchell, Geoff Morrell and Alice.
Directed by Greg Mclean.
Music by François Tataz.
Rogue is one of those rare beasties: a movie that exceeded my expectations on every level. Rarer still, it’s a giant crocodile tale that manages to escape from the realm of the B-Movie, by my accounting a feat that’s happened only twice before. ((Lake Placid and Primeval, though I wouldn’t argue if the former—intentionally campy as it is—were classified as a B-Movie homage.)) The killer crocodilian is one of my favorite movie genres, but to love these films it’s necessary to embrace bad acting, fountains of fake blood, dodgy special effects and scripts that are—to be kind—less than polished; in other words, you gotta love schlock.
Writer/director Greg Mclean’s tale of a tour boat running afoul of a 7-meter rogue saltwater crocodile in Australia’s Northern Territories is decidedly not schlock.
The acting is fairly solid, with fine performances from Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Silent Hill) as Kate Ryan, the guide who leads a boatload of tourists to their unfortunate encounter with the titular rogue crocodile, Michael Vartan (Alias) as Pete McKell, a travel writer who is anything but thrilled with his current assignment, and Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) as Neil Kelly, the rowdy local who pesters the tour boat only to find himself stalked by the same killer croc. The rest of the cast is a decent mix of personalities, complete with the quiet guy, the weirdo, the jackass you really want to see get eaten, the lady who’s probably going to freak out at any moment, the kid, the heroic guy who you weren’t expecting to die so soon, and the dog. Of course there’s a dog.
Blood? Sure, there’s blood—being eaten by a crocodile is bloody business, and this isn’t an Australian retelling of Alive; those tourists aren’t gonna eat themselves (or each other)—but it’s not the typical Festival of the Spurting Artery you (if you’re the type who watches these films) may have come to expect. There are really only four bits of gore that I can recall in Rogue—one done strictly for the shock, the second and third to emphasize just how badly the characters are injured and the last to emphasize just how dead the giant crocodile is ((Oh, hey, SPOILER ALERT: the croc dies.))—and they all occur in the last 10 minutes of the movie. I appreciate a horror flick that doesn’t feel the need to spray blood and other stuff that really should stay inside the body all over the scenery. Rogue relies on the looming threat of a monstrous, lurking predator to provide the chills and leaves the fountains of gore to lesser films, like the ill-advised splatterfest, The Care Bears vs. The Killer Unicorn. ((This film is not yet rated.))
Another hallmark of creature features is special effects that look like they were ripped off from a bad episode of Land of the Lost, ((I know, I know, that implies that there were good episodes of Land of the Lost. I’m blinded by nostalgia.)) complete with a critter that most likely started its life in the discount bin at Pat Catan’s. The crocodile in Rogue is a blend of computer-generated imagery and animatronics, and both methods are put to good use. The DVD extras include a breakdown of one particular croc-chomping, and the mixture of elements (wire-work, stunt actor, real actor, computer-generated imagery, etc.) is impressive; there’s a lot going on for a scene that lasts all of ten seconds. The digital legerdemain used to make it appear that the last half of the movie takes place in the same environment as the first half is impressive, too. The effects don’t look at all like effects, and until the curtain is drawn back you may not even be aware that the curtain was even there in the first place.
But it takes more than whiz-bang special effects to make a good movie, ((I’m looking at you, Wachowski Brothers. And you, too, Frank Miller.)) and even a competent ensemble cast isn’t going to be able to do much if your script is crap. ((Your turn to receive my glare, X-Men 3.)) The story in Rogue isn’t likely to win any awards for writing, but it does the job, which mostly entails getting the characters where they need to be in order to set up the buffet without stretching the bounds of feasibility and then letting the crocodile do the rest.
Rogue has a couple of other things going for it that didn’t even make the schlock vs. non-schlock list: stunning scenery and an excellent score.
The scenery rivals—hell, surpasses—the New Zealand vistas into which Peter Jackson dropped hobbits, elves, dwarves and orcs for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mclean shot Rogue in some areas of Australia that, if you believe his audio commentary and some of the DVD special features, have rarely been captured on film. The landscape—high, rocky plateaus surrounding heavily-forested lowlands with a wide, calm river running through it—is breathtaking, and certainly like nothing I’ve seen before; especially not in a horror film.
Likewise, the musical score by François “Frank” Tataz and featuring aboriginal vocals by Jida Gulpilil is miles away from anything I’ve heard in a horror film. Sure, there are a lot of the familiar tropes—pizzicato strings during some of the more tense, prickly moments and a low, ominous cello-based motif for the crocodile—but the tropes are done really well, and there’s also a beautiful suite that accompanies the first third of the film, a haunting piece that provides a perfect accompaniment to the vast, lush landscape. It’s the first horror score in memory that I’ve wanted to own on CD.
In case it’s not readily apparent by now, I thoroughly enjoyed Rogue. I’ve seen enough killer crocodile movies to recognize a true diamond in a genre that falls, by and large, almost entirely in the rough. It’s not a perfect film—I thought the close-ups of the rising tide looked particularly manufactured, there’s a line of dialog shortly after the tour boat is disabled that seems to allude to a croc-chomping that never happened, and the crocodile would have to have one hell of a big appetite to eat no less than three and a half full-grown adult humans over the course of just twelve hours—but when compared with the rest of its ilk it comes pretty close.