Don’t take a trip down the ‘Rogue River’

Courtesy of Lionsgate

For most audience members, the scares in Rogue River will be too much to handle. For horror fiends, Jourdan McClure’s new film will be a reminder of how small elements can turn the screws of cinematic tension. But still, by the end of these 81 minutes, the movie doesn’t hold up well, even if there are glimpses of a breakout horror hit all along the way.

Mara (Michelle Page) has arrived at the Rogue River to spread her father’s ashes. We don’t learn much about what happened and why the river is so meaningful, but it’s obvious that Mara has not overcome the loss of her dad. Just as she’s about to open the urn, a stranger named Jon (Bill Moseley) stops her and warns her about littering in the environment. This strange encounter between the young woman and this seemingly nice man catapults the story into dark, dark territory. It doesn’t take long for Mara to find herself imprisoned in Jon’s nearby house, subject to cruel treatment by both Jon and Lea (Lucinda Jenney). Supporting roles are filled by Chris Coy, Michael Cudlitz and Art Alexakis, lead singer of Everclear.

As McClure sets up the plot, there’s a definite sense that something is awry. He’s an obvious student in the school of suspense, leading us to believe that Jon and Lea are just a normal couple, willing to help Mara out during her time of need. But this portrait is soon smashed and the inevitable cliches of any old horror movie enter the picture. We all know them by heart: Don’t run that way! Why don’t you hit him with that blunt object? Have you tried the phone? Will the police officer at the door find out the truth?

Rogue River, working off a script by Ryan Finnerty and Kevin Haskin, may feel like a fresh take on the slasher flick, but it draws its inspiration from much better cinematic fare, including Stephen King’s Misery.

The performances are all effective, and that’s what makes the movie so creepy and filled to the brim with scares. Just looking at Moseley can turn a person’s hair white. Ditto for Jenney’s evil character of Lea. Page’s Mara is the heroine/victim who needs to survive, mostly because she’s a stand-in for the audience. We see the story through her eyes, her anguish.

If the movie stayed more with the psychological terror, it could have left a lasting impression. As it stands, it’s just too much debauchery to stomach. Rogue River is undone by its own content — never overwhelmingly graphic, but certainly strange and cruel.

There’s just no redeeming value to telling this story. Mara’s survival is not enough of a dramatic arc for us to spend 81 minutes on this riverboat cruise to hell. She needs to be fleshed out more as a character, otherwise Jon and Lea steal all the spotlight. And then the movie simply becomes a villain’s feast.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Rogue River

  • 2012

  • Directed by Jourdan McClure

  • Written by Ryan Finnerty and Kevin Haskin

  • Starring Bill Moseley, Michelle Page, Lucinda Jenney, Chris Coy, Art Alexakis and Michael Cudlitz

  • Running time: 81 minutes

  • Rated R for some bloody violence, torture, aberrant sexuality and language

  • Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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