September 14, 2007

Deep Blue Rogue

This was meant to only be a couple of paragraphs, hence it's kind of all over the place-ness...

The second film by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean is another strong effort, and another step forward in the progression of Aussie film - slowly realising that there's nothing wrong with a well-made genre flick. The film does have flaws though, don't get me wrong, but the pros mostly make up for it. Rogue features two very strong acts, the first two. The first being essentially the set up. It's not as character-forming as the work in Wolf Creek but there are about four times as many characters here as there were in that desert flick so that's understandable. These opening passages include stunning photography by the late Will Gibson (whoever says this will hurt Northern Territory tourism obviously hasn't seen the sweeping majestic cinematography on offer).

The second act is definitely the strongest as the band of characters fight for survival against the arrival of one motha of a crocodile - the first sighting (a mere shadow) had the entire cinema jumping out of their seats. Several great set pieces later (the rope sequence and the anchor sequence specifically) and two quite shocking character moments later we get to the third act, which unfortunately takes a turn for the worst with what is - quite literally - one of the most absurd plot developments I've seen in a long time (sorry, but it is ridiculous to the highest order) and I'm sure you'll be able to figure it out the moment a certain character gasps into proceedings. But, having said that, the third act is, at the same time, a sort of retro throwback to silly monster movies (15ft croc tails slamming people against rocks apparently don't do much damage,apparently!) and it's still fun, if just tainted by ruining a really great geniune shock (well, it shocked me, but I had forgotten about the trailer which sort of ruins the biggie) by following it up with one of the silliest moments. Still, McLean's command of the camera is in obvious spotlight here. As a filmmaking exorcise Rogue is, admittedly, not as good as Wolf Creek, but as a cinema-going experience I think it's better. And you won't feel like holding yourself in your bedroom slashing for days on end once this baby's finished - it even ends with a fade to white. Jesus Christ! What's McLean playing at here.

Perhaps the best thing about Rogue is the way it plays with viewers' expectations. People die who you wouldn't necessarily expect. People who you assume will die by the 20-minute mark don't ever meet their presumed date with destiny. Some people will be disappointed by this - the body count is perhaps much too low for some people's liking, to each their own - but I found it refreshing. What's that? The loud oaf turns out to be resourceful? Sounds crazy, but true. As I said, many will be turned off by this, I imagine some people will complain that there aren't enough scary moments. For me, the entire second act was scary. Just watching these people on this ever-disappearing piece of land in the middle of a croc-infested river is scarier than seeing people chomped to pieces.

I'd be remiss to not talk about the acting from the solid ensemble. There aren't any silly teenagers in distress here. The youngest castmember, Suburban Mayhem's Mia Wasikowska, equates herself well with the frantic proceedings. The rest of the non-mains are made up by the likes of ASHKA!!!!! Heather Mitchell as a thankfully un-gooey (can I trademark that phrase?) cancer patient, Wolf Creek's psychopathic John Jarratt as a solo adventurer with a reason, Stephen Curry as a loud photographer and Geoff Morrell as a desperately unhinged father. The leads aren't as memorable with American import Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell (using her Aussie twang again) and Sam Worthington proving to be pretty faces, although Mitchell does has some fine moments as the conflicted captain.

Greg McLean has indeed crafted an old fashioned monster movie with a modern streak. At times it reeks of being an early screenplay that was only given a spritz of Spray 'N' Wipe around the edges (it adheres more to the screenwriting rulebook than Wolf Creek, which threw the rulebook out the window and gave it the "head on a stick" treatment). It works on a different game altogether than Wolf Creek, so it's not entirely fair to compare the two - although that's a given in any similar case. In the introduction he gave at the screening McLean said he wanted to make the sort of movie that foreign filmmakers would use our land for, and I think he succeeded. He has definitely utilised "Australia" as an idea and as a location. Early moments suggest a possible mythical Picnic at Hanging Rock-esque turn could be about to be played, while at other points it feels like a theatre production - Rogue the Musical!, perhaps? There is, generally, only three sets necessary, after all.

All this begs the question of what next for Mr McLean? As I've previously stated directors that show the skill of McLean's level are routinely poached for overseas and I hope that doesn't happen in this case. McLean seems so well-suited to telling Australian stories. He knows the land and he knows the way around Australian characters - that the American tourism writer played by Vartan is the film's weakest character is no coincidence I'm sure.

One film that I kept coming back to when thinking about Rogue was Renny Harlin's scientifically-altered shark movie Deep Blue Sea from 1999. Both revel in a sort of old-fashioned entertainment. Like that movie (although, perhaps without as much nudgenudgewinkwink going on), Rogue proves to be a wildly entertaining movie for people who like their scares to be more of the fun variety. It's the type of movie that you can take a date to and watch them squirm and then jump into your pants when the "boo" moments happen. The type where you can jump and then settle back in your seat and laugh to yourself. The type where you can yell at the characters for being idiots. It's the sort of scary movie that has, unfortunately, been thrown to the wayside by directors wanting to play a cruel game of oneupmanship. Just sit back with a box of popcorn and enjoy the ride. B+

1 comment:

Paul Martin said...

I can't say that I'm big on the horror genre, and can't say I'd pay money to see this film, but I'd be interested to see it for Radha Mitchell's performance. She really shone in High Art, my second favourite film of 1999. Other than Woody Allen's luke-warm received Melinda and Melinda (though I liked it), this actress seems to have done little of note.

I remember her as a teenager, bringing sweets her mother made (and still makes - you can buy her Bliss Balls at the Astor) to the restaurant I then managed in the 1980s. By chance, I recently bumped into her mother at the Classic before an advance screening of The Home Song Stories. In the 1970s she unwittingly played a small part in what was to be a major change in direction in my life. It was ironic that this chance meeting was at the Classic, because I lived a stone's throw from it at that time (in the 1970s).

But I don't see much chance of me seeing this film because time restrictions don't put this anywhere near the top of my list of films to see.