A favourite of Syfy channel original films (see Mega Phyton vs. Gatoriod for an example), the giant crocodile monster sub-genre has two well-known and well-regarded standouts, 1980’s Alligator (directed by Lewis Teague and written by John Sayles, who’s satirical scripting was put to was equally good use a year later in The Howling) and 1999’s Lake Placid (Directed by Steve Miner and written by (in a mind-bendingly successful genre jump/pairing) Ally McBeal’s David E. Kelley). Both of these have well written scripts that mix satire and interpersonal comedy with tension. But Rogue eschews the comedy to create a straight ahead thriller with the tension ratcheted way up.
Rogue is an Australian thriller, written, directed and produced by Greg McLean, the director of 2005’s Wolf Creek, and was inspired by the true story of a large Australian salt-water crocodile that attacked boats in the late 70’s.
American travel journalist Pete McKell (Michael Vartan) takes a tourist crocodile-watching river cruise in Australia’s Northern Territory, along with tour guide Kate (Radha Mitchell) and a handful of other tourists. After an encounter with a couple of unruly locals (including a very likable pre-Avatar Sam Worthington), they spot a distress flare from further up river and are forced to travel out of their usual route to offer assistance, only to find a broken and sunken boat, with no sign of it’s occupants. Suddenly something large and fast impacts their boat, damaging the hull and forcing them ashore on a small island in the river. Soon they realise they are in the hunting territory of a huge rogue crocodile, and that the island they are standing on will soon disappear beneath the changing tidal waters of the river.
Rogue boasts an excellent natural setting, the photography of the early river tour highlights the incredible rugged natural beauty of the Kakadu National Park and Katherine Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park. An excellent score really adds to this, making the river cruise seem particularly impressive.After the initial attack the film begins to feel more claustrophobic, the gathering darkness and rising water heightening the tension, and as usual in these types of films, the pressure makes the survivors begin to turn on each other.
The crocodile itself is an excellent use of special effects when needed, mostly acting as an unseen menace, but when needed it makes a startling and powerful presence, a fast swimming predator able to chase on land as easily as in the water. It’s size and power make it something to be truly feared, a locomotive with teeth powering out of the water.
But as with any film about people isolated by circumstance, be it killer crocodiles, zombies or even threatening weather, this film is about the people affected, not the threat itself. The stranded characters in Rogue feature a good mix of archetypes, from the unexpectedly heroic to the foolish and the cowardly. There is a family, a couple and a few lone tourists, each with enough material to raise them out of the initial stereotype and make them feel like characters you can root for (or hope gets eaten). The performances are all good, remaining believable especially as the fear and panic begins to fray at the group.
Michael Vartan is an unusual protagonist, a city-boy who never really wanted to be on the tour in the first place, while Radha Mitchell is very likable as the tour guide trying to keep the group both working together and alive. John Jarratt is also excellent as Russell, a lone traveler who arrives for the tour with two tickets.
The killer-animal thriller genre is filled with bad films, but there are a few standouts. Jaws pretty much sits unchallenged at the top of the heap, with film like The Birds and Cujo showing how to do this type of film well. But while Jaws‘ position isn’t threatened here, Rogue is an excellent example of how, when treated right by a skillful director and with good performances, the killer-animal thriller can still hold tension and thrills, without resorting to the campiness and stunt-casting that Syfy relies on.