Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #772
Number of Views: One
Release Date: April 25, 2008
Sub-Genre: Monster Movie
Country of Origin: Australia
Box Office: $4,600,000
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Greg McLean
Producers: Matt Hearn, David Lightfoot, Greg McLean
Screenplay: Greg McLean
Special Effects: Charmaine Connelly, Rick Connelly
Visual Effects: Dave Morley
Cinematography: Will Gibson
Score: Frank Tetaz
Editing: Jason Ballantine
Studios: Village Roadshow Pictures, Emu Creek Pictures
Distributor: Dimension Films
Stars: Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington, John Jarratt, Stephen Curry, Celia Ireland, Heather Mitchell, Geoff Morrell, Mia Wasikowska, Caroline Brazier, Robert Taylor, Barry Otto, Damien Richardson
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 The Paulette Sisters “Never Smile At A Crocodile”
 Frank Tetaz “River Suite”
It’s no small wonder that crocodiles are generally a little cranky. They may be able to live to as much as eighty years old, but were you aware that 99% of their offspring are devoured within the first twelve months of life, by large fish, herons, monitor lizards and – get this – adult crocodiles. Cruel, cruel irony. In addition, while their 24 teeth are more than effective when it comes to crushing their food, they don’t possess the ability to chew and can’t move their tongues a lick either. They’re also woefully misunderstood creatures.
Should a croc be languishing by the river bank with its mouth agape, then it is seen as an act of aggression. In actual fact, they sweat through their mouths so it’s more likely that they’re hot as assholes and trying desperately to cool themselves off. Then we have the term “crocodile tears” and the preposterous suggestion that they weep when snacking on human prey, when it’s actually a result of their eyes bubbling over involuntarily when eating. You tell me, do they have good reason to lash out once in a while? Don’t even get me started on Crocodile Dundee as that one was little more than false marketing if you ask me.
Crocodiles – and lest we not forget their slightly stumpier compatriots, alligators – have not received the best service over the years. I would be required to cast my eye back to 1980 and Lewis Teague’s B-grade delight Alligator, for the last of this breed to truly have any bite, and while Steve Miner’s Lake Placid and, to a far lesser degree, Tobe Hooper’s Crocodile, were enjoyable enough fare, most other efforts have sunk to the bed of the swamp without trace and rightly so.
Then would you believe, two come along in the same twelve month period and suddenly its human season once again. Andrew Traucki’s Black Water and Greg McLean’s Rogue surfaced within months of one another; and while Traucki’s film was well more than halfway decent, it is McLean’s take that made the Australian outback a far less tantalizing holiday destination.
Fresh from the global success of his uncouth little ozploitation number, Wolf Creek, doors were starting to open for the Aussie filmmaker, thus expectations for his next project were understandably lofty. Therefore, his decision to put all his attention into Rogue may have seemed a little dicey. Nevertheless, with almost $27 million in his back pocket, he soldiered on and the response from critics was more than encouraging. Many called it the finest crocodile themed horror movie ever committed to celluloid and it appeared that his gamble may well pay off. Alas, the movie bombed at the box-office, and disappeared from plain sight soon afterwards, leaving this former hot property licking his wounds like a mangy prairie dog. It’s a crying shame – real tears, not croc – as this suspenseful little rough diamond does far more right than wrong and is fully deserving of a wider audience.
We begin by catching up with fish-out-of-water American travel journalist, Pete McKell (Michael Vartan), as he checks in at the Kakadu National Park deep in Australia’s Northern Territory and prepares for a nice relaxing downstream cruise. The tour operator is seasoned wildlife researcher Kate Ryan (Radha Mitchell) and she clearly knows a thing or two about these treacherous waters.
One look at his fellow ship mates and it appears we have ourselves some disposable fodder. There’s a vulnerable teen and her parents, dysfunctional couple with seemingly precious little in common, chain-smoking Sheila, geek boy man-child, recently widowed old-timer and decidedly vocal dog whose presence on the boat seems solely to signal imminent danger before being chowed down upon. Pretty much your usual suspects then.
We also have some rambunctious tagalongs, courtesy of inebriated local hoons, Neil (Sam Worthington) and Collin (Damien Richardson), who our captain has just about had a skinful of prior to this expedition. Given that they’re not on the guest list, Neil and Collin do what Neil and Collin do best while under the influence of too many cans of Castlemaine XXXX and hardly endear themselves to the rest of the group from their passing speedboat.
However, things are just about to receive one helluva shake up after one of the group spots a flare in the distance and Kate treats it as a potential distress signal to be investigated post-haste. A few clicks up river, they come across a half-sunken wreckage, and before you can say “look at that beauty”, they are shunted by a territorial croc and left marooned on a miniscule island a good few strokes from the mainland.
If things seem at all fucked, then they’re set to upgrade to FUBAR by nightfall, as by that point, the rising tide will have totally submerged their makeshift sanctuary. Moreover, the crocodile keeping its beady eye on them has additional reason to feel aggrieved, given that they’ve washed up on his precious patch. Neil and Colin turn out to be as much use as an ashtray on a Vespa, and all the while, time is running out for the stranded stragglers to make a break for it. They’re up to their budgie smugglers in trouble with a capital T and it will take a cunning plan and healthy dose of outrageous fortune for any of them to reach the safety of shore in one piece.
This is where Rogue deviates somewhat from the usual by-the-numbers creature feature. You see, while every last one of them is expendable, McLean refrains from marching them to their watery fate in the configuration we’re expecting. Better yet, he gives us reason to care about their fates, even those who appear little more than croc floss. As a result, we’re never quite sure what to expect, and McLean wisely doesn’t reveal too much of his predator, instead focusing on its unseen menace to marvelously unsettling effect via some genuinely exhilarating set-pieces. Eventually their thankless plight runs of legs and the breathless closing act delivers us directly to our toothy terrorizer’s personal stomping ground for a wonderfully tense and bruising finale.
Vartan is decent as our leading man, while Mitchell fares even better as the tormented tour guide. Fully aware that she has led these good people to what looks suspiciously like early baths for all, she refuses to buckle and is every bit the plucky heroine a film like this needs. With the likes of Mia Wasikowska and an almost unrecognizable John Jarrett lending able support, Rogue manages to lift its head some way above water and 99 minutes in the swamp never feel the slight bit excessive. In addition, Will Gibson’s far-reaching photography is easily some of the most breathtaking ever captured in my opinion and the aerial shots of the winding river in all its sun-baked glory have to be seen to be believed.
Rogue is ultimately a far better than average man vs. nature flick and it saddens me that it didn’t travel well upon its release in 2007. That said, they call it catch-up for a reason, and it’s ripper that films like McLean’s are out there for those willing to engage in some walkabout. Wolf Creek was a brilliantly unnerving little pot-boiler and this is every bit as harrowing if you imagine Mick Taylor to be around 25-foot in length and covered from snout to tail in toughened scales. Tense, energetic, and above all else, unpredictable – that equates to one big “good on ya” in my book. One thing’s for damn sure, with that foul beast lurking in the depths, I’ll feel greatly stoked to make it through to the sparrow’s fart. And that means dawn, before you go pulling out those Aussie phrase books. Strewth!
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: McLean practises an almost ungodly level of restraint with regards to what is actually shown here. I make him fair dinkum as the sight of another unfortunate being flung about like a rag doll and stolen away to the beast’s lair is every bit as affecting as any out-and-out bloodbath he could have conjured. That said, there is still a fair share of bone-crunching, gruesome injury detail and grisly dismemberment to feast those peepers on. As for the croc itself – the CGI is absolutely spot-on throughout – and it seldom looks anything less than authentic, even when finally taking centre stage in its unholy blood-soaked den.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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