In 2005 Australian writer/director Greg Mclean shocked audiences with "Wolf Creek," a horror film about a murderous bushman who preys on stranded backpackers. The film was a commercial success and hailed by many critics as the scariest, most visceral horror experience of the year. Mclean's "Wolf Creek" was a refreshing departure from the generic rules of the genre, making torturous, brutal depictions of violence terrifyingly tangible - palpable even.
With Mclean's latest film, "Rogue," the writer/director is once again making audiences fear the wondrous, hauntingly beautiful landscapes of Australia, only this time he's swapping out a psychotic bushman for a man-eating crocodile. Starring Michael Vartan (ABC's "Alias"), Radha Mitchel ("Silent Hill") and Sam Worthington ("Somersault"), "Rogue" centers around a group of tourists on a river cruise in the Australian Outback who stumble into the remote territory of an enormous, extremely hungry, crocodile.
Vartan plays Pete McKell, a cynical American travel writer who is immediately drawn to the lovely tour captain Kate Ryan, played by Radha Mitchell. The river tour goes according to plan, until the group is on their way back. A passenger notices what appears to be a flare shoot up into the sky, and Kate thinks it's from another tour boat up river who needs assistance. A few miles up river, they come across the sinking remains of a river boat, but no survivors.
As the gradual elements of fear begin to seep into our characters' minds, something suddenly crashes into the bottom of the boat, causing water to gush in through a leak. Kate is left with no choice but to head for a small island in the middle of the river. Now the group of tourists are trapped on the small island, as the tidal river slowly begins to rise. By nightfall they'll be up to their neck in the infinite blackness of the river - sitting ducks waiting to be hunted by the enormous predator lurking in the depths.
First off, Greg Mclean has made a very polished, suspenseful horror film. Mclean builds tension through the film by barely showing the saltwater monstrosity which preys on the seemingly helpless tourists. Much in the vein of "Jaws," which is the benchmark for this type of movie, the suspense builds with every attack until we are treated to a final showdown between man and croc. Also in the vein of classic creature features, the crocodile in "Rogue" is a wonderful mixture of computer effects and practical, animatronic effects. When you see this beast, it moves like its real-life counterpart, and looks extremely convincing for such a relatively low budget film.
Vartan and Mitchell turn in convincing performances, and Sam Worthington is great in his small part as Neil, the jerk turned hopeful hero. It's no wonder Hollywood has latched on to Worthingon, whose upcoming films include "Terminator Salvation" and James Cameron's "Avatar." It's also worth mentioning that John Jarratt, who played the villain in "Wolf Creek," is among the assorted river tourists. Fans of McLean's work will enjoy the role reversal, where the hunter is now the hunted.
The film looks extraordinary. We're treated to several scenic shots of the Australian outback, and it's simply gorgeous. The colors pop right off the screen, looking more like the hi-def series "Planet Earth" than a B-movie about killer crocs. The setting in which Mclean decided to tell his story certainly improved the overall product as I couldn't stop myself from being amazed by the beautiful scenery.
All in all, "Rogue" is a good little monster movie. Of course it isn't "Jaws," and throughout the film it's hard not to compare the two films, with Spielberg's shark always besting the hungry croc. If you're looking for an in-depth character piece, look elsewhere, because this movie's story isn't even as deep as the murky waters its creature inhabits. Mclean doesn't get weighed down with a heavy plot and lots of character development, in fact he wastes little time jumping right into the action. As far as giant killer crocodile movies go, don't waste your time on "Lake Placid" or "Primeval" - sink your teeth into Greg Mclean's "Rogue." It's definitely
the best of the lot, and odds are you'll be pleasantly surprised.