Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Radha Mitchell, Heather Mitchell, Barry Otto, Michael Vartan, Stephen Curry
Directed by Greg McLean
Distributed by Dimension Extreme
We’ve been talking about Greg McLean’s follow up to Wolf Creek, Rogue, for the better part of a year now. It’s nearly unfathomable how this never made it to theatres. Well, at least it’s home now on DVD, and hopefully there’s an audience out there who will be hungry for it. After the disappointing Primeval (which I dug if only for its silly factor) and the ever-so-bleak Black Water, the world is ready for a really good and really fun killer croc movie, and this near 25-foot long bad boy delivers exactly what it should!
Sometimes shit happens. Even on vacation. After seeing a flare go off, a tour guide (Mitchell) and her group (headed up by Michael Vartan) go to investigate the source of the distress signal. Where were they touring, you ask? Australia’s Northern Territory — home of deadly crocs. And poisonous snakes. And eels. And spiders. And generally everything else that I absolutely do not want near me under any circumstances. Whatever happened to theme parks and resorts? Anyway, upon getting to the area where the flare came from, our heroes’ tiny ship gets tossed and then beached. The source of this mayhem? One really pissed off crocodile who, with the rising tide, gets closer and closer to having his belly full for the coming weeks. Can our crew hold out until help arrives? Worse still, who’s to say said help won’t be met with their same fate?
The set-up is as simple as it is effective, and Rogue is a film that takes the giant man-eater formula and amps up the intensity to a bone-jangling 11 on the terror scale of 1 to 10. Simply put, this movie works on all the right levels. From a truly intimidating looking beast to characters you actually care about to a location that really has to be seen to be appreciated.
There’s no question Australia’s Northern Territory is the biggest star of the film, and Rogue is riddled with aerial shots that are absolutely breathtaking. Not since Lord of the Rings have I been as awed by a film’s setting. We’re talking terrain so big and robust that it serves to make our humans’ plight seem all the more threatening. These vacationing tourists are clearly out of their element, and as a result, despite the land being vast, things end up feeling mucho claustrophobic. This is all testament to McLean’s keen direction and sense of mood. From start to finish Rogue is clearly a winner … but it’s not perfect. There is a bit of bad that creeps up from time to time in terms of pacing, but it’s nothing that will keep you from digging on this ferocious beast of a film.
The DVD itself is also packing some bite in terms of supplemental material. Things kick off with an audio commentary by writer/producer/director Greg McLean. Going it solo doesn’t slow this man down at all. The track is brisk, interesting, and riddled with information that never gets boring. This was a hell of a shoot, and if you aren’t convinced of that from listening to the commentary, the several featurettes that await will more than make it clear what an arduous task was set before the cast and the crew.
The Making-of Rogue a documentary made by McLean himself, is a 46-minute look that’s more than just your typical making-of; what we have here is a step-by-step video expedition of what it took to get this creature in the can. Amidst the cast and crew interviews we learn of the actual story of the croc Rogue is based upon — a huge creature named Sweetheart who caused a great deal of terror in its day. Really good stuff! Also covered within this croc-doc is what lengths the filmmakers had to go to in order to get permission to allow cameras into a part of the Outback that’s never been filmed before and how said location influenced the personal and professional performances of all those involved. It’s all very fascinating stuff, and it doesn’t stop there. In Welcome to the Territory (a gallery of mini-documentaries), we’re treated to three featurettes that run between six and seventeen minutes each specifically covering the effects, the music, and the wondrous Northern Territory.
Capping things off are the theatrical trailer (if only … it would have been amazing to see this in an Imax or something of the sort) and my only real disappoint on this disc — a featurette called The Real Rogue. You would think from the title that this would be a more complete look at Sweetheart‘s story, but alas, it’s nothing more than a three-minute video podcast that appeared online to promote the movie that’s comprised of heavily edited footage from the other featurettes. This left me scratching my head. I mean, why? Just why?
Bottom line — Rogue is the best damned killer crocodile movie to be made in more than a decade. Oddly enough it’s also the one that had the hardest time reaching audiences. It never ceases to amaze me how far worse films get huge releases when quality ones like this do little more than sit on the shelf waiting for the blessing of the great home video gods. Hopefully this movie will find its fanbase on DVD. It’s truly deserving.
4 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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