Over the past few years we’ve seen a glut of what you might call so-called ‘torture-porn’ – low-budget American horror movies whose sole reason for existence is to essay various atrocities committed upon the human form. Rogue River falls squarely into this category, but its execution is slightly clumsier than most.
The basic story is so familiar that it’s boring: a Ballsy Young Woman (Michelle Page) goes into the woods on an illogical errand (here it’s to scatter her father’s ashes in the river where they used to go camping) and is kidnapped by weird outdoorsy psychos. Much tedious (and pointless) torture ensues. Ballsy Young Woman attempts to escape and there’s yet more bloodshed before a rather contrived ending.
The psychos here are an elderly gentleman who enjoys running around at night in his underpants and an old woman suffering the rigours of chemotherapy for some unspecified illness (probably cancer). Their motive for kidnapping Ballsy Young Woman seems to be rooted in the desire to have someone – yet another debased abductee who’s been kept in a box in the garage – impregnate her so that they can create a family of their own.
The script is wildly improbable and at times downright illogical. People act in entirely unreasonable and unrealistic ways just so another dull scene of nastiness can be shoehorned into the plot. The best example of this is when two people are fighting to the death on a bed, and one of them uses the urn containing Ballsy Young Woman’s father’s ashes to kill their opponent. Rather than simply grabbing the urn and smashing the other person’s skull in, they carefully unscrew the lid and pour the ashes down their assailant’s throat, holding closed their airways with finger and thumb, thus causing death by choking. Not only is this completely unrealistic, it’s also a thoroughly unbelievable way for a person to act in such circumstances. (And if I ever see another film where the hero or heroine shoots their potential saviour/fellow survivor by accident, I shall abduct a hitchhiker and needlessly torture them until they chance upon a way of escaping and killing me off in a manner which implies – yet doesn’t really deliver – some kind of poetic justice.)
In case you haven’t guessed, the main culprit here is the script (although the direction is pretty pedestrian, too), which gives the actors nothing of substance or integrity to work with. At every turn I kept thinking to myself “Oh, no. Surely they aren’t going to do that?” Invariably, they did do that – and they did it in an even crasser manner than I’ve seen elsewhere.
Two plus points are the lead actress (Michelle Page), whose performance is much better than the film deserves, and the photography – the outdoor scenes are nicely framed and imbued with a moody quality that I wanted to see more of throughout the (mercifully brief) running time.
In conclusion, if ever you’re tempted to rent Rogue River, just remember this: I watched it so you don’t have to.