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.
Rogue River: A Look Inside the Madness
Rogue River: The Extra Bits
Rogue River Trailer