Director Greg McLean psychologically scarred audiences and subsequently made an indelible mark on the horror genre with his feature debut Wolf Creek. With Rogue, a taut and, at times, really quite nasty giant crocodile creature feature, the young director has turned from the horror of man to that of nature – and proves it is every bit as harrowing.

A group of tourists are nuzzled down the food chain when they encounter a giant crocodile while exploring the lush and eerily beautiful backwaters of Australia’s outback.

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McLean initially takes the slow-burn, less-is-more approach, fleshing out the characters while treating us to all manner of seductive scenery; ever hinting at the hostility of nature and the potential dangers that lurk just beneath the surface of that all-too-tranquil, picture-postcard water. The cinematography, courtesy of Will Gibson, negates the sleazy abattoir grime of Wolf Creek to offer us stunning sun-dappled vistas and shimmering, snaking waterways as far as the eye can see. In capturing the untainted majestic beauty and timelessness of the Northern Territory, Gibson has probably done more for the Australian Outback Tourist Board than any of their own advertising campaigns.

McLean eases us into the story and straight away begins to slowly crank up the tension and muster an unshakable air of sickening foreboding. This atmosphere, steeped in dread and unease, briefly flickers into quasi-mystical territory as the tourists go further than they are supposed to down river. We glimpse signs of Aboriginal rituals and cave drawings on the cliffs that line the water's edge, hinting that the monster they are about to encounter is something of mythical proportions from somewhere time itself has forgotten. François Tataz’s truly provocative score boasting spooky didgeridoos and sinister strings heightens the atmospheric trimmings and layers the film with a strange and dark moodiness.

McLean pays an unexpected amount of attention to his characters, ensuring they are not just the usual run-of-the-mill giant croc fodder as witnessed in lesser films such as Primeval and Crocodile. Heading the cast of amiable characters are Radha Mitchell (High Art, Silent Hill) as down to earth tour guide Kate, Michael Vartan (One Hour Photo) as out of his depth travel writer Pete and Sam Worthington (Somersault, Terminator: Salvation) as rugged local Neil.

Once the cast are marooned on a little island in the middle of the river, with the tide slowly rising and night falling, McLean soon lets rip with the gastro-churning tension and craftily subverts a few genre conventions to keep things fresh when the monster starts offing the cast roster. At first all we are allowed to see is a few glimpses here and there of a giant tail gliding underwater or the odd ominous ripple. When the giant beast is finally revealed, thanks to a combination of state-of-the-art special effects and various animatronics courtesy of WETA, it looks very convincing.

As events hurtle towards the bloody climax, a few nasty surprises and McLean’s ever deft direction elevate Rogue from B-Monster territory to the loftier heights of say Razorback (another slice of surprisingly good monster-invades-the-human-sphere Ozploitation) or even Jaws.

An effective and gripping old-fashioned tale of man vs nature.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2009
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Snappy creature feature sees croc go wild in the outback.
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If you like this, try:

Black Water
Long Weekend
Wolf Creek