Review: 'Rogue' (2020) Dir. M. J. Bassett
A direct to VOD and home entertainment release for Megan Fox battling militia and an angry lioness in the wild...
When American mercenary Captain Samantha O'Hara (Fox) and her squad rescue the kidnapped daughter of a South African governor, the mission extraction doesn't quite work out.
Forced to abandon their plan, O'Hara and her team escape into the wilderness in the dead of night with the kidnappers hot on the trail wanting their prize back.
But the kidnappers aren't all that are stalking the mercenaries; an abused lioness prowls her territory and sees the teams as prey. O'Hara and her unit must survive the night in order for extraction to arrive...
A direct VOD effort that is reflected in the scope of budget, but also in the charming on-location shooting and lack of real talent, bar Megan Fox as a bad-ass, tough-talking mercenary leader. While it takes a while to have Fox convince audiences in her role as said leader over a troupe of bearded, tattooed, wise-cracking male colleagues, she does a good job in conveying a professional of her field. She has armour that is slowly whittled away and she relies on brains as much as brawn, a role far more meatier than the T&A efforts of 'Transformers'.
Her unit, while forgetful, establish a decent and likable rapport and showcase plenty of heart and humour with a script that isn't as wooden as most efforts for mercenaries, making them entertaining to watch and follow on their journey. Made better by having South African actors operating as the team including Auret and Kriek, the team also having underlying tension with Fox as their leader. Is she competent? Is she making mistakes? Is she caring or callous?
Adam Deacon's volatile, violent trafficker is just the first of our squads problems, hunting them down with his AK-47 brandishing militia when a rescue mission doesn't go quite to plan. Cue a hunted-becomes-hunter plot across the dangerous plains of South Africa. One thing that leaps out from the start is Brendan Barnes's cinematography in capturing the gorgeous sun-kissed landscapes of the wilderness, the thunderstorms that crack overhead and the natural beauty (and danger) of the land.
This is a welcome and very authentic production in an often overlooked area of the world when it comes to action films. There are some wonderful moments of beauty laced within.
However, the ulterior motive for director and writer M.J Bassett, along with her co-writing daughter, is to focus on the plight of conservation and animal welfare in the wild, notably the lion.
Think of 1987s 'Predator', but swap the Predator for a once captive and abused lion, and swap the jungles for the wild safari. That soon becomes a premise for a film that teases you with terrorist shoot-outs but evolves into a cat-and-merc game as they are hunted down by said lion, once caged and prepped for slaughter but now escaped and roaming the wilderness. When Fox and her team stumble across the former slaughterhouse, the rogue female lion isn't far behind and, in the cover of night, starts it's chilling predatory effort in taking down the destructive humans.
From the director of such efforts as cult horrors 'Deathwatch', 'Wilderness' and 'Silent Hill: Revelation', Bassett knows how to cook up a pulse-pounding and effective story.
Using her evident skill in generating atmosphere, Bassett swaps the fantastical scares for the natural ones, man v beast in an environment as beautiful as it is dangerous for a squad isolated from communication. And again, while blurring the expectations of the genre, this is an interesting take on a very real situation spliced with entertaining action. One such moment is Fox and Winchester trying to make their way to a radio transmitter in the dead of night, all while a merc tries to protect them via night-vision goggles, but has to find a battery dropped on the ground to get it working again. It's simple, but tense, and it works very well.
It's just a shame the CGI lion lets things down a little when it gets into full-on predatory battle mode, looking like it belongs in a Disney effort. Of course this is a far more safer method of creating man v lion action on a small budget, but it just evokes a computer game cut-scene that is detracting from they are trying to evoke happening on screen. But with Deacon's men never far away, the explosive gun-battles help provide the thrills and capability of both the team and Fox as new style of bad-ass female lead without being an assassin or intergalactic warrior.
While nothing but a hard-hitting message about protecting endangered animals and supporting conservationist efforts, you'll never see Sir David Attenborough do it brandishing an AK-47 taking down militia.
'Rogue' is an M-Net / Grindstone Entertainment Group/ Capstone Pictures production