I am a huge fan of Jaws – who isn’t? I’m not a fan of Lake Placid – who is? Rogue is a film I have been aware of pretty much since it was released, but I only saw it for the first time recently. It is essentially Jaws with a croc instead of a shark, and set in Australia instead of the US, but importantly it retains both a sense of fun, wonder, and fear which many similar imitators lack or don’t convey in a balanced way – too many dwelling on comedy elements, too many dwelling on cheap gore. The film looks great, has a strong cast, and while far from a comedy it doesn’t take itself too seriously, knowing that it’s job is to entertain for 90 minutes.
Rogue follows the tired and cynical travel writer Pete (Michael Vartan) as he goes for a river trip in the Outback with a bunch of tourists and locals – a feisty guide Kate (Radha Mitchell), family members Allen, Elizabeth, and Sherry, and several others. The boat trip goes according to plan until a flare is spotted and Kate is obligated to investigate – they find some wreckage and are quickly attacked by a large crocodile which destroys their boat and forces them to hide on a small island. Naturally, the tide is rising and the croc is waiting.
Since Jaws there have been a million movies of a similar man versus animal ilk, and not a single one has come close to emulating it in terms of quality, influence, or acclaim. It is so singularly iconic that any film with a murderous animal is unfairly going to be compared to it. Rogue is one of, if not the best of these and the reasons are simple – a good director who understands the project, a good script with characters we can get behind or not like (real humans in other words), and a stellar and experienced cast. We spend a significant amount of time getting to know each person, which is where so many of these films fail – where characters are usually fodder or one dimensional, Rogue is patient and smart with characterization. Greg McLean is a director who knows how to mix horror and comedy – one of the most difficult tricks to pull off well – and the fact that he tends to write the scripts he directs certainly helps. Where the film truly excels over others which fail is in the cast – you can have well-rounded characters but without the performers to bring them to life or invite the audiences to flock round, you won’t have a hit. There are established names, people who have since made it big (Sam Worthington and Mia Wasikowska), and experienced actors from Australian Stage and Television. The cast fully commit to what was probably an exhausting and fun shoot and it’s easy to pick your favourite character or who you wish to be chomped next thanks to their performances.
Where the film doesn’t always succeed is in the actual horror. There are a couple of decent set pieces where the tension begins to crank upwards, but it rarely reaches a peak. Possibly because there is a lighter mood at moments, we never think things are going to get too dark or to frightening – McLean maybe missed a trick by pulling the carpet from under us and going for full blown horror in the final act. Still, there are plenty of deaths, amusing and otherwise, and although there are few surprises to be had it’s still perfectly entertaining while never letting itself become the B-movie that it is.
Have you seen Rogue? Is it the best of the Jaws clones or am I forgetting another? Let us know in the comments!