Welcome, gentle reader, to the first in a weekly series of articles exploring the world of anthropophagic crocodilian cinema. Man-eating 'gator movies, that is.
Starting today, and continuing until I run out of movies (or enthusiasm, whichever comes first), we’ll take a look at a different selection every Thursday from what might be filmdom’s most underrated genre. It’s gonna be a croco-dilly, yo!
This week’s picture: Rogue (2007).
In this tense little gnasher, a sightseeing cruise in Australia’s Northern Territory turns into a supper buffet for a giant croc. You’d have to say it’s not an especially g’day for outback tourism! Well, okay, you wouldn’t have to...
2007 was a big year for Australian killer croc flicks, with both Rogue and Black Water coming out that year. Both films are reputedly based on true stories, although Rogue takes a good deal more poetic license with its source material than does Black Water. “Sweetheart,” the saltwater crocodile that inspired writer/director Greg McLean’s Rogue, seems to have been not much more than a nuisance, chomping at some motorboats, but claiming no human victims.
Admittedly, at over sixteen and a half feet, he was probably a frightening nuisance indeed, and you can see why the authorities decided to trap him. Another thing you can see: the mounted remains of “Sweetheart” on permanent display at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory!
(The story of the 2003 crocodile attack that inspired Black Water is altogether more tragic, and when it comes time to talk about that movie, we’ll probably gloss over it, because however much fun it is to watch actors pretend to get eaten by special-effect crocs, it is a total downer to hear about people getting killed by crocodiles in real life.)
McLean does a neat job of quickly introducing us to the boatload of tourists mostly destined to get torn asunder down under. They’re a charming array of types—the American yuppie couple, the shutterbug nerd, the widower with a secret. These early scenes feel like an homage to one of those WWII pictures featuring a squad of mismatched stereotypes including one big, blond lug from corn country, one wisecracking kid from Brooklyn, one college boy everyone calls “professor,” et cetera. Totally great.
A pre-Terminator, pre-Avatar Sam Worthington shows up as the female lead’s faintly menacing hillbillabong ex-boyfriend. Also appearing: Mia Wasikowska, who went on to play the title roles in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and the 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre, which I watched on an airplane, totally stumped for two hours as to where in the world I’d seen that girl before. (Without looking it up, I probably never would have figured it out. Rogue! Of course!)
The real star of any croc flick, of course, is the beast itself. Rogue keeps its monster crocodile out of sight when possible, and why not? Much of the suspense derives from our belief he could be anywhere. Reasonably good CGI keeps the critter from spoiling the mood when he does appear. We get our best looks at him in the final sequences, in—SPOILER ALERT —his den under a giant, dead tree.
He’s a big, nasty brute, too. The sight of the monster croc, gorged on human flesh, heaving himself slowly and with difficulty down off the muddy banks of the mangrove swamp and into his subarboreal pool, evokes the image of a constipation sufferer straining to push an enormous and stubborn length of stool into the bowl.
“No, no, no,” you’ll cry as this movie thrashes and splashes to its gory conclusion. “Not the dog! I can watch this croc kill a half-dozen humans, no problem. But just please tell me the dog doesn’t get eaten; I can’t take that.”
Hey, I’m not going to ruin the ending for you by telling. But Rogue depicts nature as red in tooth and maw, so brace yourself.
Rogue is solidly entertaining and legitimately suspenseful, buoyed by capable performances and high production values. (Some of the gorgeous aerial shots of Northern Territory scenery look like they could have been scrounged from the BBC’s Planet Earth leftovers.) Plus it has a giant crocodile in it, which automatically boosts it into the top half of all movies, ever. I mean it. Imagine how much better When Harry Met Sally would have been if they had added just one giant alligator attack.
What a dumb title though, right? Rogue? Note to Greg McLean: Give your next movie a name that provides me with at least the faintest hint as to whether it might be about a killer crocodile, or a jet pilot, or a New Orleans riverboat gambler, or Sarah Palin.
I give Rogue three ‘gator grunts out of a possible five. I actually mean for that to be a pretty good score, even if it does work out to a D, percentagewise. We have to leave some headroom for Alligator (1980), after all. Until next week!