★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Have you ever wondered just how safe those crocodile tour boats are? This is a story where the tourists get much more than they bargained for. And, so did I, in reviewing this movie.
Directed by Greg McLean
Back in 2007 there were two competing stories about almost the same thing. Think Bugs Life and Antz. Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Mission to Mars and Red Planet. Armageddon and Sudden Impact. Even low budget survival horror movies had conjoined twin film issues, and in 2007 we got two Australian survival movies about saltwater crocodiles attacking tourists.
The first, Black Water got a reputation for gritty realism and capitalized on the success and scare factor of the micro-budgeted survival oceanic horror of Open Water. Black Water has a fine reputation, and this was the film I had intended to watch, but as of now, it is very difficult to find a streaming version of this feature.
I then turned my attention to another Australian production, that was released in November of that year, titled Rogue, a Dimension Films feature titled Rogue. I had some concerns as it smelled of copycat syndrome, and Dimension, being a larger more traditional studio that had a reputation of producing reboots of classics like The Amityville Horror (2005), Black Christmas (2006), and Halloween (2007)… all of which were vastly inferior to the predecessor. (Though you could make an argument as to whether there is a major step down for Amityville.) But, I was in the middle of preparing for an Aussie/Kiwi Podcast, and I wanted to watch a salty croc film. So Black Water, it is!
As it turns out… it’s pretty good.
Dimension films has pockets deep enough to get some recognizable actors, and for this effort, they have Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, The Crazies) as Rachael, the captain of a safari tour boat in Northern Australia that specializes in up close and personal contact with the local saltwater crocodiles. Michal Vartan (Alias, Never Been Kissed) is one of the passengers, Pete, a travel journalist, reluctantly on report for his magazine. There is a large group of passengers who are given just enough personality and distinctiveness that you can identify them and their respective roles on this trip. I thought the secondary players did a pretty good job of providing some good background texture, and proved to be more than cannon fodder for the crocodile dinner bell to come.
The cruise tour lazily drifts through the Kakadu National park, and apart from getting harassed by local river runner and Rachael’s ne’er-do-well ex-boyfriend, Neil (Sam Worthington… pre-Avatar fame), things are a pleasant, if fly-infested drift in spectacular canyons and wilderness. As they prepare to turn back, one of the tourists spots a signal flare in the distance, beyond where the tour normally goes. Rachael is obliged to check out the distress call, despite being out of range of the radio call. (Red flag!)
After going a few miles upriver, and just about ready to turn things around, the spot a boat that has been flipped upside-down in the water. Moments later, the boat gets rammed by something in the water (we know what it is). The boat springs a massive leak and Rachael pilots the boat to an island in the middle of the river, the boat slowly sinking into the river. Rachael asserts her leadership as captain of the boat as arguments and frustrations mount among the guests, and then… head count! One of them is missing.
It is soon identified that the river is a tidal estuary and the tide is coming in, and will cover the island by nightfall. All seems lost when Neil comes to check out the scene, paying no heed to the warnings of the group. When he and his buddy realize that something is wrong, the crocodile flips their boat and the buddy becomes crocodile chow.
New escape and rescue plans have to be made as the water rises, and the real purpose of Neil’s arrival becomes clear. He is the exposition dump. Everything you need to know about what they are dealing with, he’s there to give you an answer. I would have preferred this to be Rachel’s job, as she is, after all, a river guide specialist who grew up on this river. Mansplaining alert!
The movie then enters familiar horror movie territory with multiple attempted escapes, and the movie finally reveals the crocodile, and it is enormous. Almost preposterously big. I’d gauge it’s a 30 foot crocodile. They did a mix of practical effects and CG, and by keeping the crocodile as an unseen menace for the first 2/3 of the movie, they saved budget and amped up the tension.
In some ways, this film reminds me of Mitchell’s work in Pitch Black, another movie with interesting side-characters in a monster-filled environment. Mitchell again is in a role of authority but is filled with self-doubt when things go wrong. She is both lovely and tough, and you do believe her as the riverboat captain. Though there is arguments and frustration, for the most part, she manages to keep everyone together, but as more people get attacked, her courage is severely tested.
I thought that her psychological journey was handled well, not too heavy, not to weak. For a popcorn movie like this, I was also surprised at how the body count played out. The final tally was not predictable, and I appreciated that.
Michael Vartan was a viable heroic character. He’s just brave enough. Just tough enough. But not so classically heroic that he pulls the focus. This is still Mitchell’s movie. Yeah, there’s a bit of a romantic undercurrent (both of them are preposterously pretty) but it applies the romantic subplot in a way that doesn’t seem overly forced. Also, Vartan has an acting move that is so prevalent that a friend and I used to call his character in Alias “Earnest Lookaway”, as he will furrow his brow, and turn his head to stare of into the middle distance. CLASSIC. He should patent that look. It is as if the ghosts of Jimmy Dean and Luke Perry have gifted that pose to him.
Some other notes:
- The crocodile is impressive. I still prefer the alligators from Crawl better, and the plot for Crawl is much more intense. Also, this movie isn’t goofy like Lake Placid, and it plays its story straight, where Lake Placid went rather gonzo.
- The story was inspired by the story of Sweetheart, a huge salty that attacked boats in the 1970s.
- John Jarratt, who plays one of the background characters, and who also memorably is Mick Taylor in the Wolf Creek series, starred in a similar killer crocodile movie called Dark Age from 1987.
Rogue is rated R for gory crocodile action, I think it would be suitable for hardened teen audiences. Like Black Water, this is a hard film to find, but I was able to watch it on iTunes for free. I will be looking for a way to watch Black Water for comparison between the two.