Rogue River (2012)
77 min., rated R.
By now, there is nothing else to really add to the backwoods-horror genre, except a transcendent style, scares, and twists that work. "Rogue River" sets everything up with a sure hand, but it's spare to a fault, ultimately becoming pointless and disappointing.
A young woman, Mara (Michelle Page), drives into the woods alone. Yes, you've probably heard that one a dozen times over. When she's set to spread her late father's ashes in the river, her car gets towed. Then she accepts a ride into town from a seemingly nice married man named Jon (Bill Moseley), but first they have to stop home to check in with his wife, Lea (Lucinda Jenney). They welcome her to stay for dinner and stay the night, but tension boils, and Jon and Lea end up not being as nurturing as they seem.
Green director Jourdan McClure marks a handle on tension without letting budgetary restraints get him down. His use of hand-held camerawork and the occasional long take provide jittery apprehension. Screenwriters Ryan Finnerty and Kevin Haskin string us along for a tense setup, but aren't as successful in their attempts to shake up this formula. There's a twist revealed about halfway through, but it doesn't really change or make sense of Jon and Lea's motive. Then, something they make Mara do is sick and shocking, but it comes off as a screenwriter's construct, a wildly nonsensical coincidence instead of an organic part of this psychotic couple's cursorily explained plan. Keep in mind that theme of family runs through this film's veins. Finally, there's the depressing ending, followed by a final shot that just makes the viewer feel icky.
With no solid backstory to Mara, Michelle Page still manages to hold the screen. This woman's plight, being at the right place at the wrong time, is inevitably compelling and her actions are reasonably believable. She's put through some physically and mentally unpleasant situations that call upon her to emote, which she does effectively. Characters actors Bill Moseley and Lucinda Jenney, a couple in real-life, are genuinely creepy. Moseley is a given since he's pretty much a veteran to the horror genre, especially memorable in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" and both Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects." He overacts less here than he has in the past, but Moseley has such a gift for playing menacing so well that breaking into romantic comedies will probably never happen. Jenney, especially, brings some nuance as the cancer-ridden Lea, but the script could've shaped the characters more clearly.
For a horror film, the scenes of physical torture are twisted and impactful without being sadistic or gratuitously gory. Ironically, it's not graphic violence that leaves a bad taste in our mouths, but the nature of the material.