Some horror films are good because they tap into real fears, are genuinely atmospheric, and offer a legitimate way for audiences to exorcize their fears in the safety of a theater, or in the comforts of their home. Think of something like The Silence of the Lambs, which deals not only with killers, but with confidence and matching wits. Other horror films merely go for broke, and try to merely upset you, gross you out, or just make you squirm by presenting you with a series of horrific and torturous events. Think of just about any torture porn movie from the mid-'00s. Jourdan McClure's Rogue River is decidedly of the second variety. Muddy, miserable, grisly, and psychotic, Rogue River is a feast for the senses, only the feast is made up of rancid entrails force fed to you by a cackling mountain man who is missing teeth, and has most assuredly had sex with that corpse in the corner.
Rogue Riveris not as gut-churningly visceral as, say, the early films of Rob Zombie (although the presence of actor Bill Moseley was probably no accident), nor does it pack the shocking punch of The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (and I refer to the originals here), but its stock in trade is mounting, sickly torture scenarios that go for the gut rather than for the head. Most horror fans (myself included) probably often cheer the mounting violence they see in a slasher film. With a film like Rogue River, you find yourself rooting for an even greater level of violence than usual, as the stakes have risen so high, it will now take someone being eaten slowly alive by their own mother to raise the stakes yet further. If this sounds fun to you, by all means rent it. It came out on video on this week.
The story, such as it is, follows a depressed young woman named Mara (Michelle Page, who looks a lot like Kat Dennings to me) who has trekked out to a remote part of the titular river to dump her father's ashes. They used to fish there. While she was trekking to the riverbank, her car gets towed, and a kindly older gent in a vest (Moseley) offers to help her. Which leads to a detour to his house. Which leads to an insistence that she stay the night. Which leads to quickly mounting weird-ass stuff. The lady of the house, possibly Moseley's wife, possibly his sister (played by Lucinda Jenney) spits her dinner back out onto her plate. When Mara cuts her hand, the lady stitches up her hand without antibiotics or anesthetic. Then she removes her wig and pees on the floor. Then Mara leaves, but is clubbed, dragged back, and tied to the bed. We soon see other victims hidden around the house, Mara is soon force fed boiling water (to what end exactly?), and before the film is over, she'll be coated in blood, forced to rape a man, force fed breastmilk from the source (eugh), and contemplating suicide under the drab, grey, dreary skies.
I'm not sure where the catharsis goes in a film like this. I think it may be through the sheer, overpowering oddness of the lead killers. We're asked to wonder about their origins. How did this seemingly kind rural couple start up – together, mind you – a systematic kidnapping and torture regimen? How does one bring that up to the other? All we get by way of explanation is a half-hearted piece of dialogue along the lines of “I guess we always knew we were crazy…” which would have been, incidentally, a cool line to start out a Martin Scorsese movie. We also know that Jenney is dying of cancer, and that she longs for a baby.
So yeah, it's good and twisted, but, like most torture films, it's not very profound. This is not about the overpowering evil one can encounter. It's just the usual warning to city-dwellers to never step foot past city limits. Don't you know that the wilderness of the U.S. is overpopulated by toothless, raping, mutant, incest-prone psychopaths who cannot achieve their petty, filthy orgasms unless they're making a floor lamp out of your skin and femurs? If you hadn't learned that yet, Rogue River is a fine lesson.
If you've seen that lesson before, though, Rogue River offers only mild style.
The DVD features a few deleted scenes, mostly of the talky variety.