“What did you think of the tour?”
Let’s continue the Fear Flashback Creature Feature in July run with one of the classic animal attack monsters – the crocodilian. Whether a saltwater croc (Black Water) or an alligator (Crawl), the reptile remnants of the age of dinosaurs have inspired many filmmakers to put tender human flesh in danger from sharp teeth and the fabled “death roll.” Alligator was my first “killer croc” movie (yeah, I know alligators and crocodiles are different, but alliteration is a helluva drug), and I was hooked ever since. Even when the creature plays second fiddle to human monsters (Eaten Alive) I’m happy to see those beady eyes and scaled tails.
Rogue is the second film by Wolf Creek writer/director Greg McLean. Those expecting the raw brutality of that film might be somewhat non-plussed by Rogue, which also manages to ratchet the tension up over the course of the film but leavens it with gorgeous scenery and likeable characters (also an ending that is much less of a downer). There is some humor, but it is primarily a serious monster movie. I’m not sure why it’s not better known, as It’s one of the better “nature attacks” films I’ve seen, and I’d put it up there with Alligator as one of my top two crocodilian films.
Holy crap, do I have a top ten list of crocodilian films? I think I do. At least a top 5…
A couple of interesting tidbits about the film. Its scaly antagonist is roughly based on real Northern Territories croc named Sweetheart, a 17 foot specimen well known for attacking boats between 1974 and 1979. It’s shown in one of the newspaper articles on the wall of the bar at the beginning of the film (along with a number of other true-story articles.) The second fact that struck me (from the documentary included on the disc) is that while the monster in Rogue is an enormous crocodile at 5.2 meters in length (roughly 18 feet), crocodiles can actually get even bigger. The largest one in captivity was a nightmarish 20ft long, and they’ve been seen in the wild at similar sizes.
So yeah. As big as the croc is in Rogue, it’s not even as big as they get in real life.
I have the ‘Unrated’ DVD release of Rogue. It looks pretty sharp for an SD release. I have no idea what was added to make this ‘Unrated’ – it seems substantially the same as the version I first saw on streaming years ago. (It’s possible it was this version, come to think of it.) There are a handful of extras, including a making-of documentary and a commentary track.
The film is available for streaming free on Vudu (with ads) and can be rented or purchased at a number of online vendors.
There doesn’t seem to be a US Blu-ray release, which is a shame as the cinematography is just gorgeous and I’d really like to see it in HD.
A travel writer, Pete (Michael Vartan) joins a disparate group of tourists on a crocodile viewing river cruise in Australia’s Northern Territories. Although there’s a short encounter with some locals, the trip is mostly a pleasant diversion. When they are about to turn around and head back one of the tourists sees a distant distress flare. The boat operator and guide, Kate (Radha Mitchell) informs them that they’ll have to check it out – despite the fact that she can’t raise her home base on the radio.
The characters are all quickly and economically presented – Pete is a world weary snob, Kate is the pretty-but-tough local who loves the land, there’s the camera-nerd/jackass, the family with an ill member, the pushy housewife and others. It’s all done fairly well and there are even moments that have a certain depth to them. One character quietly releases ashes into the river, observed only by a young girl whose mother is sick. She turns and hugs her mother tightly. It sounds maudlin, but it was a lovely bit, and handily created a connection to the characters with nary a bit of dialogue.
Rogue is packed with recognizable, if not exactly big-name, actors. Michael Vartan in Alias, Radha Mitchell was in Pitch Black and Silent Hill amongst other things. A pre-Avatar Sam Worthington plays one of the local toughs. There was a male actor who I knew I should recognize but just couldn’t place until he’d been eaten – turns out he’s Robert Taylor who I know from the series Longmire (as well has having played Agent Jones in The Matrix and, perhaps more pertinently, as a character in The Meg). And of course there’s John Jarratt, who played Mick Tayler in Wolf Creek, though he’s almost unrecognizable here. (This is also his second killer croc film, after 1987’s Dark Age. I was surprised on this viewing to realize that the young girl character is played by Mia Wasikowska, who would go on to play Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland films and Edith in Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak.
Eventually the boat finds a secluded area of the river and is immediately attacked by a huge crocodile. They wreck the boat on a small island which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t a tidal river. Eventually the tide is going to come in and they’ll all be at the mercy of the croc.
It’s a standard ‘nature attacks’ story, isolating a group of strangers and watching them struggle with the monster and each other. It’s done extremely well here, though. There’s real tension and scares to be had and Greg McLean, does the smart thing by keeping the croc hidden or revealed only in pieces for much of the movie. One of my favorite early bits with the croc is a scene where the survivors are arguing about something and there’s a splash. They all turn to find one of their number (who was standing too close to the river edge) is gone – you only see the barest glimpse of a huge tail disappearing beneath the water. The guy didn’t even get a chance to scream. Where that sort of scene would have been played for laughs in a film Lake Placid it’s all serious business here.
I also appreciated the fact that no one is a complete asshole nor is anyone an over-the-top hero figure. People do stupid, selfish things as the tension mounts, but they’re understandable in context. The “asshole” local guy even steps up to try and help the group once he’s stranded alongside them. Kate’s the closest thing to a leader, but she falls afoul of the monster before our unlikely ‘hero,’ Pete, is put in the position to save her by accident – he slips and falls into the croc’s lair. All the actors do a good job, with no one standing out as a weak link.
The monster effects are top-notch when finally shown and the croc is scary as hell. The combination of physical effects and digital work is almost seamless. Michael Vartan in particular is to be commended for having to do the heavy lifting of acting terrified against mostly empty space, making all that digital trickery believable. The cinematography deserves special mention with some of the most spectacular footage of the Australian countryside that I’ve ever seen. The area in which the film was shot is a protected one, and the filmmakers were given special dispensation from the Aboriginal owners to film there, meaning this was perhaps the first time this part of the Northern Territories had ever been seen on film. It might be full of killer crocs, but it sure made me want to go visit anyway.
While not necessarily in the same eco-horror category as 1970’s animal attack films, it’s definitely human presence that triggers the creature behavior. The croc is defending its territory from interlopers and, once it’s realized their… uh… nutritional value, utilizing a food source. I think this puts the film in yet another sub-sub genre, the “humans on level ground with other predators” film. I’m sure I’ll think of more examples long after this review is published, but for now all I can think of is movies like The Edge or The Shallows.
The Bottom Line
Rogue is a top-notch monster movie of the “animals attack” variety. It’s well above average in pacing, writing, acting, effects, and cinematography and really should be better known. If you can only watch one giant crocodilian movie, this is the one to see.