I was highly impressed with Australian director Greg MacLean's Wolf Creek when I saw it in theaters back in 2004 or 2005. He was giving American directors like Eli Roth and Darren Lynn Bousman a good run for the money when it came to directing a tightly paced, well scripted, visceral horror thriller. Boasting memorable performances and dripping with creepy dehydrating atmosphere, Wolf Creek was awesome.
So imagine my surprise when his follow up, Rogue, went straight to video. Did it even hit theaters at all? Apparently, but only in a limited fashion after playing the festival circuit, like most other thrillers from shores that don't belong to America. I stumbled across it one evening while perusing Blockbuster's shelves, and picked it up instantly after spying McLean's name.
Starring Michael Vartan better known for his role in Alias, and Radha Mitchell who amazed me in High Art and Pitch Black for her versatility. Rogue dives into familiar water with a tale of normal folk up against a seemingly unstoppable force of nature bent on destroying them. In this case, a 30 foot long salt water crocodile. Other films have aimed for a similar premise and fallen woefully short, like Lake Placcid and the tragic Primeval. But where those films fail, Rogue is a resounding success.
Primarily because, like with Wolf Creek, MacLean's scripting here is tight and focused. It knows that it's campy and is fun nonetheless. The actors bite deep into their characters, and abstain from winking at the audience, which would be a fatal flaw in a movie like this. It helps as well that the characters are all exceptionally played, with the obvious high points being the chemistry between Mitchell and Vartan, as well as a young, pre-Avatar Sam Worthington.
I really don't want to dive to much into the plot details, because it's so much fun not knowing what to expect and watching it unravel on screen. Yes, it definitely falls into predictability several times, but it's saved by great writing, amazing cinematography, and creature effects that rival some of the best we've seen from outside of Hollywood. When we finally get to see the croc, it's huge, terrifying and convincing, which only propels the movie that much more, adding a solid villain into the established dynamic of the other characters in the film. If the rogue crocdile of the title weren't so well done, the entire movie would have fallen apart as soon as it's introduced. Not the case here.
While I could have picked up the domestic Dimension Extreme SD DVD of Rogue, I opted to recently import the blu-ray from Amazon in the UK, and had the opportunity to watch the disc last night and determine if it held up to my initial watching. I'm happy to report that the movie was still as enjoyable as it was the first chance I had to see it. The added benefit of the blu-ray being that the opening scenes are some of the best high definition reference material I've seen short of Baraka. Basically up until the conflict of the film begins properly, we're given fantastic footage of an area most people will likely never see. Pristine and gorgeous, exotic and dangerous, and it looks phenomenal. Deep blacks and some exceptionally lush and vibrant greens, with deep blue unsaturated sky and amazing river shots that are crisp and detailed so well there are times it looks close to three dimensional in 1080p. The only issues I had with the blu presentation is that some of the night time scenes are a bit underwhelming, with some crush and halo effects that should have been taken out of the master. Other than that, it may well be one of the best looking discs I've picked up in a while.
Sound is equally good, and while not terribly overwhelming, accentuates the movie well. It's a mix that's never too loud and also never too quiet with a soundtrack that definitely works to propel the film forward. Dare I say it sounds almost as good out of the TV speakers as it does utilizing the high def soundbar, which is always a sign of competent workmanship in the soundtrack department.
There aren't a huge amount of supplements, but the commentary with director MacLean is entertaining, and the few featurettes available on the disc, while short, offer some additional insight into what went into the film. They won't take a long time to watch either, as far as featurettes go, and there's no reason not to watch them once the credits of the movie itself have rolled.
In the end, I still find it odd and somewhat surprising that after the cult success of Wolf Creek that director Greg MacLean's follow-up Rogue saw no real American release, outside of a limited theatrical run and some showings at festivals in-country and abroad. It's just as well written and suspenseful as his debut picture, albeit a bit more campy and tongue-in-cheek. It helps that while the actors are aware of the general mediocrity of the story idea, they hold back any winks to the audience and maintain their characters' personas throughout the duration of the film. That it's scripted well, shot expertly, and a hell of a lot of fun only aids the pciture, making it that much easier to recommend. It's got mostly phenomenal video quality, and sound quality that while not overwhelming compliments the feature. Some fun supplements added into the mix make the movie very easy for me to recommend to anyone that loves a good yarn of nature generally wreaking havoc on the human population, or really, just anyone who loves a fun thriller. Like I said, it's awesome!