Indie horror / thriller movie Rogue River could be classed, one supposes, in the torture porn genre. It certainly shares a lot of the same characteristics. And while the graphic violence and gore is mostly subdued, it is both more thoughtful, and more disturbing than such films as Hostel or Turistas.
Mara (Michelle Page) is grieving the loss of her father, and leaves behind her brother Drew (Chris Coy) to drive into the country and deliver her father's ashes into the Rogue River, where he spent many happy days camping. While down at the river, her car gets towed. Luckily (but really not because it's that kind of movie) a friendly stranger named Jon (Bill Mosley) happens by and offers her a lift. He takes her back to his home and introduces him to his wife Lea (Lucinda Jenney). They offer her dinner, and a place to spend the night other than a hotel.
At this point, the creepiness really kicks in. Mara cuts her hand badly on a broken plate, and Jon holds her down while Lea sews up the wound with a needle and thread. Later, Mara awakes in the night (no, she didn't leave after the wound sewing thing) to find Jon, in his underwear, holding the urn with her father's ashes, staring at her. She does try to leave at this point, only to be confronted with a seriously deranged Lea, who turns out to be losing hair from chemo treatments. A scuffle ensues. Wigs are stuffed in mouths, girls knocked unconscious and shackled. The usual stuff.
It's at this point that Rogue River starts to get more torture pornish. There's a lot of cruelty on display here, and it takes a bit before the viewer is able to clue in on exactly what's going on, and who Jon and Lea really are, and why they've kidnapped Mara in the first place. I won't go too much into that because it would reveal some vital plot twists, but there is ever so much going on that is exceptionally creepy. While as I stated above, the film is more thoughtful than most of its ilk, the producers go out of their way to introduce a couple of very disturbing story elements that don't seem to serve much purpose dramatically. The blood and gore effects are effective and convincing, but not overplayed or sensationalized, and it's not these aspects that are the most unsettling. But I won't say more, lest I spoil the story for potential viewers.
Technically, Rogue River is very well executed. As I stated, the makeup effects are top notch. In particular, the wig work for Lucinda Jenney is outstanding. The film is inventively shot, the locations ground the film well, and the performances are quite good. The three leads of Michelle Page, Bill Moseley and Lucinda Jenney play off of each other effectively, even as they spend most of the film as antagonists. Page is very convincing as the harassed young woman. If one criticism could be lodged it would be against the writing. Too many times it seems unbelievable that Mara doesn't react more strongly or try to escape the clutches of her captors sooner and more forcefully. The tension isn't maintained as much as one would like, though there are a lot of good scares and several moments of real dread. It fails at some level to cohere together as a unit, though, and at the end the audience is left wondering what the point of it all was.
Rogue River has some flaws, but is a well-produced and generally effective film. There is a lot of unsettling and downright icky content here, so it is definitely not for the faint hearted. Recommended, with a few reservations.
The video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and generally looks good. There is some occasional light grain and posterization, but the colors are bright and clear and the image clean.
The audio is Dolby digital 5.1 channel, and it also works well. The sound is clear and crisp with nice separation. The dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other issue can be heard. Subtitles are included for English and Spanish, but no alternate language track.
There are a few extras included. They are:
Rogue River: A Look Inside the Madness
This is a long featurette, running just over forty five minutes. It includes interviews with the producers, Jourdan McClure the director, the writers Ryan Finnerty and Kevin Haskin, as well as most of the cast and several more of the crew. A lot of this is mutual admiration stuff, where everyone talks about how great everyone else was, but there is also information on how they achieved various stunts, costuming, effects and character development. This tends to drag at times, but also has some interesting info.
Rogue River: The Extra Bits
This is a short featurette, of just over five minutes, and is somewhat misleadingly titled. One would expect deleted scenes or bloopers, but this is merely more interviews talking about the filming process and the trials of battling the cold.
Rogue River Trailer
This is a red band trailer for the film. It's fine, but not exceptional.
Red band trailers are included for Blood Night, Descendants, Night Wolf and Enter Nowhere.
This is the most substantial extra included. The commentary features producers Zachary Bryan and Adam Targum, director Jourdan McClure, and actors Michelle Page, Bill Moseley, Lucinda Jenney and Michael Cudlitz. At times there are too many people contributing here, but for the most part the group is convivial and entertaining. They share stories about the shoot, difficult scenes, Michelle getting a concussion during one stunt, and the creepiness of the story. One tidbit is that Lucinda and Bill, who play a couple in the film are also a couple in real life. The commentary is of varying interest, but mostly fun.
Rogue River is a challenging film to watch, and at times wallows a bit too much in its cruelty and insanity. It does however have its charms. It has very high production values for a low budget film, provides quite a few good scares and some very fine performances. Check it out, but only if you're a definite fan of the genre.