Rogue isn’t just hard to describe, it is–as I try–impossible. While the box cover (it didn’t get a U.S. theatrical release) certainly identifies it as a giant crocodile movie, it’s a lot more. Starting with that description–the giant crocodile movie–Rogue‘s already unique. It’s the only movie of its type (the larger than previously believed possible man-eating animal) where no one ever comments on the size of the animal. It’s visibly monstrous and the people are too busy being terrified–Rogue has a short, pseudo-real time present action–to ponder the animal’s dimensions.
The terror is another strange feature of Rogue. Lead–the movie opens with him, so he’s got to be the lead–Michael Vartan has the most atypical character arc I can remember. He actually assumes the traditional role of a lead female protagonist in a horror film. He kept reminding me of Jamie Lee Curtis in the third act. He spent the first two thirds terrified (though still masculine, but calm among the panicking machismo) to eventually overcome that fear with his intelligence. It works.
Writer and director Greg Mclean’s approach to the material is also what makes Rogue so peculiar. Much of Mclean’s approach is realistic. He populates the film with an interesting disaster movie cast of people–the somewhat bickering married couple, the cancer survivor and her family (including the young daughter who–shockingly–isn’t put in empty peril time and again), the annoying camera junkie and the widower out to spread his wife’s ashes. Mclean handles all of them subtly and respectfully–in some ways, it’s hard to believe the shark–sorry, croc–attack is coming.
Vartan fails in these scenes, since he’s not really on par with the excellent character actors Mclean cast as the fellow bait. Radha Mitchell does quite a bit better, but Sam Worthington’s the big surprise. Not just because Mclean’s script does very well by Worthington’s character, but also because he’s able to convey so much in a few lines. And eventually Vartan gets better.
But back to Mclean’s approach. Rogue‘s very referential to genre standards–particularly the Jaws films, especially with the introduction to the characters and then various little things–and the film is aware of them and is aware the viewer is aware of them. But there’s a barrier. The characters are never aware of their place in a film standard, but Mclean also manages to be incredibly hokey–super-earnest about the fantastic premise–and get away with it. It’s a sublime move and makes the whole experience all the more engaging. It’s impossible to dismiss the film.
Mclean’s also an amazing technical director. For the first two thirds of Rogue, every one of Mclean’s shots is perfect. He shoots with a deep focus, Will Gibson’s cinematography mesmerizingly vibrant. The film is a wonder to behold. Between Mclean’s river boat tour to the long night time sequence where the cast tries to escape the crocodile, there isn’t a single false step. Mclean knows what he’s doing.
Rogue–the title has nothing to do with the content, at least not in any of the content presented to the viewer–is a great little big movie. Understanding how it works would require a lot more viewings, because there’s just so much to the film.
Written and directed by Greg Mclean; director of photography, Will Gibson; edited by Jason Ballantine; music by Frank Tetaz; production designer, Robert Webb; produced by Matt Hearn, David Lightfoot and Mclean; released by Roadshow Entertainment.
Starring Radha Mitchell (Kate Ryan), Michael Vartan (Pete McKell), Sam Worthington (Neil Kelly), Caroline Brazier (Mary Ellen), Stephen Curry (Simon), Celia Ireland (Gwen), John Jarratt (Russell), Heather Mitchell (Elizabeth), Geoff Morrell (Allen), Damien Richardson (Collin), Robert Taylor (Everett Kennedy), Mia Wasikowska (Sherry) and Barry Otto (Merv).