The Weekly Creepy: What a Croc! Vartan and ‘Rogue’ head to the Outback

20 Jun

weekly creepy

Welcome to the Weekly Creepy. The goal is to help expose you the audience to newer horror/thriller films that might have slipped under your radar. Dedicated to obscure, foreign and indie fare (as well as the glorious world of DTV), The Weekly Creepy will tackle a different pic each week, with reasons why it is or isn’t worth your precious time or money.

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 June 19th, 2009-

Rogue (2007)

 

Trends come and go in the world of horror filmmaking. Right now, zombies and grotesque torture hold the spotlight. A few years ago it was ghosts and the supernatural. Wait a bit, and it will change all over again. Whats more interesting to me are the mini-trends; when three or four films of a very specific subset get released and they aren’t based off a popular concept(I think back to the “seafood” horrors of the late 80s like Leviathan and Deep Star Six). In 2007, it was killer croc pictures, which mystified me since there have been very few over the years and the most recent, Lake Placid, wasn’t exactly a mega-hit award winner.

At the very beginning of 2007 I got a pair of free tickets to see Primeval, which I knew featured a popular televison star and a giant crocodile. “Oh, the australian one with the Wolf Creek director” I thought. But when we got there, it turned out I was wrong. This film didn’t have Alias‘ Michael Vartan, it had Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell, was set in Africa and as a movie it was absolutely dreadful. Making the aforementioned Placid look like King Kong, Primeval kept switching storylines, featured cgi that wouldn’t be out of place on the Sci-Fi Channel and threw away its horror story midway in favor of a plot lifted from The Blood Diamond. To call it embarrasing was an understatement. So I took notes; “Rogue is the one you want to see, Bartleby! Rogue!” But then it was never released to theaters and I waited…losing interest in the meantime.

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Somewhere around last year I came across an Australian croc thriller on Netflix called Blackwater. The plot mentioned a group of tourists in a boat being sabotaged and then hunted by a crocodile.  This had to be the same movie with a simple name change. I was wrong again. No giant croc, just the regular variety and instead of recognizable actors an unknown lot striving to come off as casual, clueless tourists in a survival picture that tried to play its harrowing scenario for authentic real-time thrills. It was a terrible bore. I barely made it to the end, and after that I decided that the chances for Rogue being any better were probably very slim.

So I buried my memory of it, watched as it was dumped by Dimension to dvd last year and avoided it–until a month ago when Blockbuster was selling used discs 2 for 10$. I grabbed a couple I had never seen but had been curious about; Rogue and Dance of the Dead. The other night, inspired by Dead Snow, I went home looking for some schlock I hadn’t seen yet and pulled Rouge off the shelf, convincing my wife to sit down with me for it.  She fell asleep(because she was tired) but I managed to make it all the way through and what I found surprised me. Rogue, after being tossed off without even a theatrical release, turns to out to be the best water beastie film this side of Jaws and The Host.

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Last I heard from Greg McClean was as a talking head in the recent Ozsploitation documentary “Not Quite Hollywood” where he referenced older films from Australia’s trash movie history including the 70s croc pic Dark Age and the brilliant environmental horror film The Last Weekend. McClean’s claim to fame was 2005’s Wolf Creek,  a killer-in-the-outback  thriller, unseen by me, that drew the ire of several mainstream critics including Roger Ebert who felt it was vile and useless. Maybe it was, but Rogue is not. Outside of the basic set-up, McClean’s crocodile opus doesn’t feel like a B-movie. Suggesting a wild and restless natural world waiting to swallow up human trespassers, Rogue evokes  the refined mystery of Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock, the primal magic of Roeg’s Walkabout and the backwater grit and quirk of  Razorback and Frog Dreaming (The Quest).

I realized this wasn’t your average creature feature immediately. The untouched, exotic beauty of the canyons, mountains and riverways of Australia’s wilderness are presented in breathtaking detail by cinematographer Will Gibson, who unfortunately passed away shortly after his work here. Soaring aerial shots and close-ups of oxen herds and flocking cranes give the feel we are watching Planet Earth, not a monster movie. The opening attack on a stray buffalo isn’t particularly ominous or overblown; it just happens and reminds us of the danger that lurks below the surface of the water. The score is sweeping and adventurous, Frank Tetaz’s work reminiscent of Randy Edelman’s similarly engaging compositions for 1997’s Anaconda. With the combined visual and aural elements the first ten minutes or so of Rogue could function perfectly as a travel video, highlighting the vast grandeur that attracts tourists to Australia in the first place. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the scenery:

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Ok, so the last one isn’t scenery but the lovely Radha Mitchell,  first introduced to me in the sci-fi horror hybrid Pitch Black and has been doing solid work both in and out of genre ever since that film. She plays  Kate Ryan, the guide of a riverboat tour who finds herself and her patrons at the mercy of a gaint, murderous crocodile who capsizes her vessel and leaves the  group stranded on a small cove with little to no protection from the creature’s repeated attacks. Along for the ride are Michael Vartan’s journalist, Pete McKell and rising star Sam Worthington(he’s the centerpeice of Cameron’s Avatar and the main player in the recent Terminator film) as Neil Kelly a backwoods good ol’ boy who comes to the rescue only to have his boat sunk as well. McLean doesn’t make it a three person showcase though-all of the characters on the cove are given equal development and  individual moments to shine.

McClean structures the film in such a way that everything of signifcance takes place within a mile radius of the sandy river bank the characters seek refuge on. With an economy of dialogue and a smart writing, the filmmakers develop an unbelievably tense microcosm of survivial in this environment. We don’t even see the croc clearly for most of the movie but its presence is always felt  and Rogue’s best scenes involve this little band of survivors coming together to ensure they make it through the night. There are scenes we expect; like an escape attempt that is more wishful thinking than likely to work and moments of extreme cowardice and brave sacrifice.  Most of the dramatic elements are familiar, it’s true, but McClean works his scenario as skillfully as eary Spielberg manipulated the rather slender plot of Jaws- everything comes down to caring about the characters, being terrified of the animal and totally immersed in the setting.

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When night comes, flashlight beams puncture the foggy night, and creepy shots that peer up from beneath the water’s surface keep us on edge while the actors huddle together and make desperate plans. I have seen all of that a thousand times before, but McClean ratchets up the tension by keeping his characters alive and together for nearly the entire picture. Unlike most horror films that cut a bloody swathe through the cast (from what I understand Wolf Creek did this) Rogue is actually more unnerving because rarely do we see a death or dismemberment, but when they happen they jolt us out of our comfort or reinforce the unease we already feel. Its an interesting choice because it makes the movie more appealing for thriller fans and opens it up to those adventure hounds who might be too squeamish for an explicit bloodbath.

Radha Mitchell and Michael Vartan play well off each other, and the rest of cast relate in realistic ways. McClean has clearly paid attention to the nuances of group interaction in times of crisis. When one character flips out and endangers the rest, there isn’t a moment of extreme anger or judgement, but rather pity and sympathy–none of them have expected or wanted to be here, cracking under duress is understandable. It’s amazing that any of them are operating half as well as they are. Some rise to the occasion though, like Worthington’s Neil who may be a no-account in town but is skilled and resourceful in this scenario. Vartan is the token American, but he handles himself well–he’s sharing lead duties with Mitchell and he is isn’t concerned with dominating the picture or being the only ‘hero’. He graciously accepts the thankless role of screaming from the shore in one protracted action scene while Mitchell does all the heroic stuff.

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In the end, when Vartan has to enter the lair of the crocodile to retrieve one of the group who has been snatched, the film shifts from survival thriller to big, fat monster movie. It totally works even when the cgi used to create the crocodile isn’t flawless. This brute is gigantic, stealthy and speedy underwater, but on land he’s like a lumbering tank–formidable but not without his weaknesses. The production design for the cave is impressive, and it creates an eerie, enclosed space that showcases the battle between Vartan and the reptile wonderfully. Whether it’s merciless jaws lunging from the darkness to grab at body parts, or scenes that remind one of Peter Pan’s ticking beastie, the monster makers keep their creation in the realm of the plausible and terrifying.

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Rogue might have been half-heartedly marketed as a blood-soaked horror film but it bears more in common with survivalist adventures from the 1970s. I was impressed with how caught up in it I got. It has a mesmerizing quality to it that makes it perfect for repeat viewings. So, why did it get sidelined and dumped like this? Thats a good question, but certainly not the first time the Weinsteins have been behind sabotaging or shelving a film with potential. Regardless, if you haven’t seen the film and consider yourself a horror, thriller or adventure fan you should make it a point to catch Rogue.

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8 Responses to “The Weekly Creepy: What a Croc! Vartan and ‘Rogue’ head to the Outback”

  1. The Great Fatsby June 20, 2009 at 7:56 pm #

    You forget to mention Mos Def’s mesmerizing performance in Primeval. The dramatic tension of the sequence with Mos running away in slow-motion while the clunky CGI croc snaps at his heels… No, you’re right, that movie sucked.

    • Bartleby June 20, 2009 at 9:47 pm #

      Oh c’mon now…lets not disrespect Mos Def by confusing him with Orlando Jones.

  2. The Great Fatsby June 22, 2009 at 7:47 pm #

    See? That movie was so bad even the correct cast list is fading from memory. Wait a minute, what were we talking about again?

  3. Bartleby June 22, 2009 at 10:00 pm #

    that you should see Rogue ASAP…

  4. dhaRma shark June 24, 2009 at 4:01 pm #

    “The score is sweeping and adventurous, Frank Tetaz’s work reminiscent of Randy Edelman’s similarly engaging compositions for 1997’s Anaconda.”

    WTF?!? You know who did the score for Anaconda and paid enough attention to describe it as sweeping and adventurous? Bartles, you are definitely qualified to write this blog…

  5. Bartleby June 24, 2009 at 7:15 pm #

    Ha! There are two answers.

    One is that’s just how I roll. I could probably tell you who played the apes in Congo too.

    The more truthful answer is that Randy Edelman happens to be a great film score composer, doing some very well known work for Dragonheart, Last of the Mohicans and Gettysburg. So, as a fan of Edelman, I sought out the score for Anaconda and having listened to it apart from the movie, I came to the sweeping and adventurous conclusion. As a singular piece of dramatic music it works. Of course it has to do certain things in the movie in order for the two to jive. Rogue has a similar structure to Anaconda, and I thought the score was doing similar things and it also posessed the ability to stand alone.

    Now, of course I have seen Anaconda and actually enjoyed it–its pure camp, although Rogue is not. Another movie that had the benefit of Jon Voight’s forehead muscles.

    Likely, you were just razzing me and didn’t expect an answer so I have ousted myself as a greater dork than the comment indicated. But hey, we already knew that.

    • dhaRma shark June 25, 2009 at 7:11 am #

      You’re right…I was just bustin’ bee’s. However, you’ve supplied a very logical answer, and, in doing so, took all the fun out of it.

      • Bartleby June 25, 2009 at 7:25 am #

        booya!

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