My notes on Rogue.It’s strange (and a bit sad) that Wolf Creek, Australian writer-director Greg Mclean’s effective but thoroughly unpleasant first feature, got a theatrical release and was a modest success in the Hostel-Saw-Haut Tension vein of tied-up-with-barbed-wire-and-tortured films, but his second effort – which is just as suspenseful, much better paced, has at least a couple of ounces of humanity, features some recognisable names (okay, one is a pre-Hollywood Sam Worthington) and delivers good old monster movie thrills – has slunk out almost unnoticed on DVD. It has a few parallels with Blood Waters, the other Aussie giant croc movie, but offers a larger cast of potential reptile chow and a much more impressive crocodile (‘they’re pretty much living dinosaurs who have been perfecting their hunting skills over two hundred million years’). After a prologue in which a water buffalo gets snacked on by a lantern-jawed giant, Rogue opens in a fly-blown, hot-as-hell outback town as a deftly-characterised group of tourists embarking on the proverbial three-hour tour with local guide Kate Ryan (Radha Mitchell, using her natural accent for once), and chugging up the creek to look at the dangerous wildlife. As usual, the outpost of civilisation – manned, in a cameo, by antipodean veteran character actor Barry Otto – is an unappealing tavern, with gruesome news pictures about crocodile attacks framed on the wall. In a nice suggestion of miscommunications to come, the barman (Otto) overhears American travel writer Pete (Michael Vartan) complaining about the terrible service and dumps a dead fly in his coffee – not realising his customer was referring not to him but the mobile phone service (all horror films now have to take place beyond phone range).
There’s a hint of the enmity between outback-dwellers and incomers which featured in Wolf Creek as the tour boat is buzzed by a couple of the strine scuzzbos who have featured in these films for decades (cf: Mad Max, Razorback, Storm Warning). Beery lout Neil (Worthington) gives Kate a hard time in a way that suggests some Straw Dogs-like history between them, spurring mild-mannered Pete (Michael Vartan) to speak up. However, this is a feint – the real trouble starts when, despite grumbles from some of the party who have buses to catch, Kate takes a detour to answer a distress flare. The crocodile, who isn’t strictly a rogue since it’s stressed that he’s defending his territory against human interlopers, wrecks the boat and strands the party on a small island which is shrinking every minute (as in Attack of the Crab Monsters!) because this is a tidal river. One tourist is snatched by the monster when nobody is looking, and Neil comes along to jeer at the castaways then has to join the party when his boat is trashed too (and, refreshingly, doesn’t become a whining traitor but does his best to pull together with the others to get out of this quandary).
Blood Waters was about three people up a tree, but this has a wider range of characters and shows that Mclean has developed as a writer since Wolf Creek. We don’t get the full-on backstories an American disaster movie would saddle its people with, but everyone makes some sort of sense and registers as an individual rather than a convenience: Russell (John Jarratt, the psycho from Wolf Creek, in a kinder, gentler role) has bought two tickets and quietly empties someone’s ashes (wife? a parent?) into the water (but never explains – a lesson more screenwriters should learn: the gesture is enough to make us understand the character, an explanation would just trivialise him); Elizabeth (Heather Mitchell) is terminally ill and thus committed to her family’s survival (neatly, she bonds with the grieving Russell); Gwen (Celia Ireland) is traumatised by the early loss of her matey husband and credibly freezes up while trying to span the water on a rope and panicky people are urging her to get on with it. Even the annoying camera buff (Stephen Curry) and the cheery fat girl (Caroline Brazier) aren’t just comedy relief – and the film doesn’t squander the impact of its casualties by inflicting too many of them.
After a mid-section in which the group try to rig up escape methods or signal for help and the reptile makes sorties that whittle them down, Mclean changes gears: the monster grabs Kate and the survivors scatter, but Pete ventures into the creature’s cavernous lair under a big old tree and battles with it to rescue the injured but undigested heroine. Here, we get solid monster movie stuff as a wimp from the city becomes a resourceful, determined wilderness man in order to save the girl from the seemingly malicious giant creature. This has some structural similarities with the last act of Wolf Creek, which also featured injured folks desperately struggling in a killer’s lair, but this time it’s not a complete downer. Rogue allows the hero to be really heroic and best the monster, a default to the earliest mode of storytelling so rarely used in current cinema it’s powerful all over again. Using some combination of animatronics, CGI and real beasts, the film creates an entirely convincing monster, even when seen up close and personal – and staging the finale in a lair which it’s almost too big for makes for a great claustrophobic suspense sequence. The soundtrack is especially effective, using weird atonal outback noises, but the good nasty humour of the enterprise is sealed by the use of a vintage recording of ‘Never Smile at a Crocodile’ over the end credits.
Terry Frost I liked this one too. The final battle has a great but not overplayed “dragon in its’ lair” feel that I really got into while watching the film.
Steven Millan It’s also strange and sad that WOLF CREEK’s main baddie John Jarratt had a very unrecognizable small role in ROGUE(deeply hidden behind glasses and a mustache),as well as was promised major roles in Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS,but those Tarantino film roles unfortunately never flourished(nor came true) for Jarratt. 🙁 🙁
Jack Sargeant Talking of Australian horror movies, did Dying Breed make it to the UK? Perhaps a little predictable in places but basically a quite entertaining horror movie about scary rural people in Tasmania.
Dave Wain Dying Breed was released yesterday in the UK…. and not a bad movie at all…
Kris Saknussemm I think just scary Tasmanians gets it.
Paul Moloney This note reminded me of “Long Weekend”, a 70s Australian eco-horror that really unsettled me when I watched it years ago. Wikipedia reveals there was a 2008 remake, “Nature’s Grave” – wonder if its any good.
Jack Sargeant Long Weekend is a great film, really interesting and part of the whole Australian ’70s horror cycle. The remake is – by all accounts – terrible. As an aside all of these classic ’70s Australian genre movies are readily available on DVD here (in Aus) and it’s a genuine voyage of discovery unearthing films that have a cult following here and that nobody in the ol’ country has heard of (as an aside I have been writing about many of these movies – Wake in fright, Pure Shit, Mad Dog Morgan etc etc for Australian mags, and I probably should call Sight & Sound and pitch them there).
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Faith Clements there was or is a remake of longweekend with jim caviezel in it,must be lost somewhere in studio hell.
Jack Sargeant That’s the one, I believe it was released as Nature’s Grave overseas (i.e not in Aus).
Kim Newman The distributors of Dying Breed didn’t send me the film, so they presumably don’t want coverage in my Empire column. That said, my to-be-watched pile for the column has over a hundred discs in it already so it’d have to go to the back of the queue behind at least one Steven Seagal film.
Sean Robinson The Long Weekend remake was actually pretty good. I was pleasantly suprised after hearing some terrible things about it.
Mike Kuciak I really liked ROGUE. In a lot of ways it’s a by-the-numbers creature feature, but the execution is so high it’s taken to another level. Good stuff.
Tony Lovell I hated Wolf Creek and won’t watch it again, which probably meant it succeeded.
Colette Balmain I didn’t mind Wolf Creek, although I preferred Paradise Lost
Chris Cooke I really enjoyed ROGUE – I love nature attacks type films, but thought this really worked – one of the best, a good mix of humans pitted against nature and monster movie. Stands in good company with Piranha and Jaws…
Tony Lovell You know I really am not keen on Pirhana? It just felt sort of too exploitative… I sort of prefer Frogs…
Neil Baker This is a terrific review, Kim, for a sadly underrated film. I watched it in a double bill with Primeval, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Tony Lovell Ah, Rouge; that famous movie about the cross-dressing killer croc…
Kim Newman Rogue is due on UK R2 DVD imminently. Rouge was a Chinese romantic ghost story.
Chris Cooke And I loved ROUGE! Didn’t Jackie Chan produce that… I really REALLY need to own that film, anyone?
Tony Lovell Um, I hope folk realised I was joking about the camp croc!
Chris Cooke Someone’s filming it now!