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Rogue
cast: Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan, Sam Worthington

writer and director: Greg Mclean

90 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Icon DVD Region 2 retail
[released 5 October]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
Set in Australia's scenic Northern Territory, Rogue does for salt-water crocs what Jaws did for great white sharks.

The backwater town of Katherine (next stop, Alice Springs) is a far cry from Chicago and the normal places travel-writer Pete McKell (Michael Vartan) picks for his articles: plush hotels and tourist resorts. In spite of unsuitable clothes (the airline lost his luggage) he buys a ticket for a river cruise and prepares to observe the local flora and fauna.

Pete's fellow sightseers aboard the Suzanne, captained by easy-on-the-eye Kate Ryan (Radha Mitchell), are the usual mixed bag beloved of this kind of film: assorted loners and family groups, Aussies and foreigners, the selfish and generous, the neurotic and laidback... not forgetting Kevin the dog.

If you discount the confrontational antics of Kate's 'ex' Neil (Sam Worthington) and his larrikin friend Colin, everything goes largely to plan. At the end of a pleasant trip, they are about to head back, when a tourist spots a distress flare. 'Don't do it!' you'll be shouting, as Kate takes the fateful decision to head upriver to investigate. It's sacred territory up there, you see, and there's an ominous aboriginal carving of a huge crocodile on the cliffs above.

Sure enough, no sooner have they spotted the source of the flare than the boat is holed by a massive croc, resentful of these intruders into its territory and eager to replenish its underground larder. Pete, Kate, and the others manage to get to safety on a tiny island. But this is a tidal river, and the water is rising...

Though Icon are marketing this as horror, it's more of a scary, atmospheric thriller that masterfully raises the tension, notch by notch, and keeps you gripped until the very last frame. A 'beauty and the beast' moment involving Kate had me squirming in my seat and I jumped several times as the plot undercut many, if not all, of my expectations.

Mitchell (Silent Hill, Finding Neverland), Vartan (Monster-In-Law, Alias), and Worthington (Avatar, The Great Raid) are uniformly excellent in their physically demanding roles, though the rather slight Vartan wouldn't have been my first choice for action leading man. And there's strong support from John Jarratt (Wolf Creek) as the grieving widower clutching his ash-filled urn and a scene-stealing cameo from Barry Otto (Dead Letter Office, Strictly Ballroom) as Merv, the barman.

But it's the animals that come close to stealing the show. Kevin (Patch the Wonder Dog) is not only cute and well trained but crucial to the unfolding plot. And as for the crocodile ("a steam train with teeth!"), we've come a long way since the clumsy mechanical crocodiles Tarzan used to wrestle. The animatronic star of Rogue was designed (though not built) by New Zealand's world-renowned WETA Workshop, so it's not surprising that it's totally convincing. It's big, too; a plot requirement for this creature feature, as we are told early on that crocodiles "won't attack anything larger than they are" and this one has to attack a cruise boat.

So it's thumbs up from me for Rogue, but I'm sure the Aussie tourist board must have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the scenery is truly spectacular and should bring visitors flocking to Arnhem Land, but on the other: who on earth's going to risk going on a wildlife river cruise now?

DVD extras (not included on review copy): feature commentary by writer-producer-director Greg Mclean, The Making Of Rogue, a documentary by Mclean, Welcome To The Territory: a gallery of mini-documentaries, The Real Rogue, plus theatrical trailer.
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