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Rogue: Unravels in the End

June 25, 2009
more of this, please

more of this, please

Seeing the John Sayles scripted Alligator on TV as a little kid satisfied my craving for alligator run amok movies for about 19 years.   Then in 1999, Steve Miner (Friday the 13th movies) directed Lake Placid, a solid entry driven by David Kelley’s witty script and a strong cast featuring (restrained) Bill Pullman, (beautiful) Bridget Fonda, (hilarious) Betty White and (manic) Oliver Platt.  The four leads were perfectly  balanced against the horrors perpetrated by the giant killer gator.  And now I have seen two decent alligator movies.  Seems like plenty.

So why bother with Rogue?  Surprisingly, Rogue is not like Alligator or Lake Placid.  Greg McLean, who burst onto the horror scene with 2005’s Wolf Creek, brings Pete McKell, a travel writer, to the gorgeous Australian Outback where he quickly embarks on a boat tour captained by Visitor’s Radha Mitchell.  Capturing the mountainous terrain, carved cliffs, and flowing rivers, Rogue feels like an advertisement for the outback.  McLean’s camera is in awe of the territory, and the wide angle shots are stunning in their expanse.  With the use of effective musical effects, the first 20 minutes of Rogue are hypnotic.   

Floating slowly down the river, we meet the passengers.  Each has their secrets, and McLean goes for subtlety with each reveal.  Although much less clever than intended, the passengers each avoid the standard cliché’s.  It is clear from the start, however, that Radha Mitchel and Micheal Vartan’s characters are the focal point; and their cool, flirtatious glances at each other seem to indicate something more to come.  Unfortunately,  our  fearless tour guide is too busy rattling off deadpan facts about the territory’s alligator behavior to really care, and as a gator propels itself high above the water to grab a piece of meat dangling from the tour boat across the lake, another seed is effectively planted for a later scene. 

After a brief interruption from Neil, played by Sam Worthington, a passenger spots a flare and the boat sets off to investigate.  The tension of Rogue is mostly in the anticipation of the “rogue” alligator’s inevitable appearance, so the fact that McLean coaxes us to really immerse ourselves in the journey down the river is deserving of praise.  

Once the alligator, visually stunning and ferocious, makes its appearance, however, the movie loses some of its momentum.  Fortunately, Sam Worthington’s character shows up, adding some energy to the happenings.  During the film’s best moment, it is Worthington who steals the spotlight.  He is larger than life next to Vartan’s American writer, and this dichotomy is effective and realistic.  Rogue would have benefitted from more of Worthington’s gritty character.

Unfortunately, the very location designed to increase the danger also serves to hinder the development of story.  The passengers are stranded helplessly on a small island, so small that there is no room for them to even walk around.  McLean seems to realize the limitations here and in rushing quickly to its conclusion, Rogue suffers. 

The slow unveiling of character, the subtle moments of beauty, and the chilling sound effects are discarded once the darkness comes.  The passengers are tired, frustrated, and losing hope.  But McLean doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.  Rogue loses steam and all sense of time and place during its final act.  The light comes way too early (wasn’t it just dark), a cave seems to appear from nowhere (is that inside a tree?), and the dog, an obvious plot device, ends up doing exactly what a dog in a horror movie always does (oh no, don’t go in there). 

So Rogue is a mixed bag.  On the one hand, it is a very effective, tension filled journey toward doom in the heart of the glorious Australian Outback; but on the other hand, Rogue is an old fashioned, killer gator on the loose B movie.  Populated with strong acting, all around nice characters, and some realistic, heart wrenching moments, Rogue is almost the perfect man vs. nature film.  But the final 15 minutes manages to dismantle the whole event, leaving me feeling cheated and empty.  Greg McLean is clearly a filmmaker honing his craft, and I expect his next effort to be a more complete tale.

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