July 20th, 2007 Dark Horizons, Film, Film Reviews

It’s not only giant man-eating animal movies that hold a hallowed place in cinemagoer’s hearts, but there’s a long and proud history of giant alligator and crocodile movies of varying degrees of quality, many of them trailing in the wake of that other giant killer animal movie of from one Steven Spielberg about a shark…

As horror movies go, the creature feature’s at the other end of the universe from the tightly wound menace of Greg McLean’s sledgehammer 2005 debut Wolf Creek. Going from the nerve-sawing dread of three backpackers stalked and ensnared by the scariest psycho since… well, Psycho to this is a huge leap in style, tone and execution for McLean.

But with $25m of Weinstein money behind him he’s been able to buy impressive effects to pay off his monster money shots, courtesy of the John Cox Creature Workshop and digital effects house Fuel.

Of course, as every horror director who pits a group of characters against the mostly-hidden killer stalking them knows, there are constraints. Show too much of your creature and it quickly gets boring. Show too little and the audiences feels short changed — especially if the poster has some huge, clearly visible creature about to devour a cast member.

In going for a good time, old-fashioned monster movie, with none of the all-too-real terror of Wolf Creek, McLean knew he was inheriting a subgenre with strong conventions that can be the storyteller’s best friend as well as worst enemy, but he gets the balance almost perfect in every regard.

He introduces us to the victims, lets us in on their lives just enough to decide whether we like or dislike each of them, then leaves us to wonder who’s number’s up, who’ll come through and save the day and who’ll be all bluster only to fold up at the critical moment.

It was a similar quasi-psychological social microcosm that Zack Snyder got so right in his 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, and McLean knows and loves his source material and inspiration as much as Snyder did.

The action takes place over a single night and day in the remote north of Australia, where river tour guide Kate (Radha Mitchell, in what must be one of her first Australian accents on screen) is taking a coddled tour group upriver through a picturesque gorge bound for disaster.

Among them is American travel writer Pete (Michael Vartan), unimpressed at being in this Earths-end locality and a disparate group of random strangers.

When Kate directs the boat further than the tour usually goes to answer a distress flare, something barely seen below the surface rushes the boat and rams them — something huge.

Frightened, their boat leaking, the company makes for the small island in the middle of the lagoon they’ve found themselves in. After hearing Kate’s tour monologue — which doubles as the exposition we need to know about crocodiles — we know that’s bad news.

As the premise and title suggest, they’ve stumbled into the territory of an outlandishly sized croc, one that not only won’t welcome their presence but will need several meals through the coming night.

With the tide creeping in and their only sanctuary disappearing under their feet, the who’ll-be-next guessing game ensues as the increasingly unhinged group try to formulate an escape while they’re hunted down one at a time in classic horror film fashion…

Some people will be surprised McLean’s gone so ’50s monster movie’ after the visceral impact of Wolf Creek. After his debut, some will be disappointed. But Rogue delivers no more or less than it promises, and it does so the way those 50s irradiated-beasts directors wish they could have done so realistically had CGI and good animatronic puppetry been around.

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