There is a special place in the hearts of most science fiction and horror fans for the monster flick. For those of us baby boomers out there we grew up on some of the cheapest made monster movies of all time. We also saw the best of the genre from the previous generation. Yes, we learned to love movies watching everything from the heights of Frankenstein and the Wolf Man to the not so well produced creatures as in ‘It Conquered the World’ and ‘The Sun Demon’. If you don’t recognize the last two you are most likely under fifty years old and should ask your parents or grandparents. Since this type of flick encompasses such a wide variety of effects and overall quality some new film makers have taken this as an excuse to make really terrible movies. It seems that every week brings another horror movie with the same old hackney zombies and other monsters. I have to admit when I received the film ‘Rogue’ I thought this was just another one of the same lackluster pack. So I popped it into the old DVD player and hoped for the best. To my surprise and delight this is an excellent film that holds together in almost every respect. Then I realized that it was from the new arm of the Weinstein Company and Genus Productions called ‘Dimension Extreme. I have had the pleasure to watch a number of their releases and I have yet to be disappointed. Now in many ways it is unfair to compare this movie directly to the flock of Indy horror flicks. First of all it had a reported budget of about $20 million. While that is nothing compared to the huge budgeted studio blockbusters it would make a bunch of independent flicks and at least four of the series of original movies made for Saturday night viewing on the Sci-Fi channel. The bottom line here is this is a fun movie to watch and it will not disappoint. It is an Australian production and if this is any indication I can’t wait for more films like this from down under.
The film gets off to a great start with its writer director Greg Maclean. He first gained international recognition with is acclaimed first film ‘Wolf Creek’. He knows how to force the audience to the edge of their seats and keep them there. Maclean, unfortunately no relation to myself, has an intuitive understanding of something most of his contemporary horror film makers has missed; the small details. Maclean provides little moments set against the grander backdrop of the story that gives us little insights into the nature of the characters. These are not major moments; you might even miss them the first time you watch but they add to the realism and believability of the film. What these touches do is make the characters into real people. This is of paramount importance if the audience is to care about what we all know is about to happen to them. It is one thing to go into a movie known that the killer croc will chow down on some victims but Maclean gives us enough in the way of details about them so that we feel something when those killer teeth slam down. Maclean does provide all the required characters listed in the horror flick guidebook. You need the beautiful but resourceful young woman, the handsome man who is a much needed expert and an assortment of ancillary characters typically referred to a appetizers. It has to be difficult to write a monster movie that has any sense of quality. Too often the authors in this genre rely on the special effects department to hold the story together. Maclean gives his audience a competent story where the creature is just one part.
Maclean shows off his versatility within the horror genre. While ‘Wolf Creek’ was brutally explicit showing all the gore and violence that the new torture flicks have made popular this film does in a completely different direction. He appears to have been heavily influenced by Steven Spielberg’s classic "Jaws’. Maclean knows the different between homage and rip off styling the movie with similar elements to the ultimate fish tale. The genius of ‘Jaws’ was not relying on constant shots of the creature. While this was serendipity for Spielberg, the mechanical shark broke down a lot, Maclean planned for the lack of croc shots. He understood something that was established by the great master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, that the anticipation of the evil was much more effective than the reveal. As such Maclean takes a slightly slower approach to this film than most any other member of the genre. He places the ingredients in the cauldron of the plot and simmers. There is a hint of a tail breaking he surface of the water followed by a person there one minute and gone the next. The audience is waiting for the creature to be fully shown in all its huge gory glory. The fun here is in the waiting and how the humans have to fight against something that can kill and not be seen. Any horror flick can give you a visual shock with a few gallons of stage blood. What you get here is a film that removes the higher functions of your mind and frightens you on a visceral level.
The film begins with some incredibly beautiful shots of the lush Australian Northern Territory. For someone born and bred here in Brooklyn it is amazing to think that such natural magnificence exists in the world. A large wildebeest looks out over the calm water and bends its head for a drink. Without warning a pair of jaws clamp on the head of the hapless beast. In a few seconds there is no sign of predator or prey. Pete McKell (Michael Vartan) is a self obsessed and abusive American who writes for a travel magazine. He is on assignment in Australia when he joins up with a group of tourist for a river trip in the outback. Although he generally dislikes most people he is drawn to the ship’s captain, Kate Ryan (Radha Mitchell). She does not have the same reaction seeing Pete as just another city boy. Before they can set out a couple of locals, Neil (Sam Worthington) and Colin (Damien Richardson) tries to warn them away but they go anyway. Not long into the trip a flare is seen off in the distance. Kate believes it to be another tour boat and insists they go to see if they can help. A few miles on they find the remains of a dinghy but no people. While investigating further something smashes into the boat causing it to rapidly take on water. Kate and the passengers are forced to a small island nearby. They hope that rescue is at hand when they see Colin and Neil in a small boat coming towards them. That is until whatever punched a hole in their boat sinks the local’s boat. Neil manages to get away but Colin is pulled by something unseen under the water. Right here you see the difference in this movie. There was ample opportunity for Maclean to go graphic but he stays on the high road.
Dimension Extreme once again scores a hit with this DVD release. This is a far better than average creature feature that is well worth owning. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video is exceptional which is great considering the exceptional cinematography. The acting is excellent. Mitchell is well know as an Indy actress but has done her share of fright night features like ‘Pitch Black’. Vartan is familiar to all fans of the television series ‘Alias’ and brings his A game to this film. The Dolby 5.1 audio is one of the better I have come across in a long while. The channel separation is precise and clear. This is one to enjoy over and over again.