On the surface, Rogue River sounds like a pretty generic abduction film. A young woman named Mara goes to a secluded, peaceful part of the river to spread her father's ashes. She strikes up a conversation there with a man named John (played by Bill Moseley, so you know he will turn out to be demented), who offers her a ride when she discovers her car has been stolen. Everything in town is closed for the night, so he invites her home to his wife, Lea. Naturally, bad stuff ensues.
What sets Rogue River apart from the pack is the beautiful photography, the peaceful setting, the outstanding performances, and subtle, layered themes. We talked with director Jourdan McClure about all this, and more.
What was the genesis Rogue River?
I had this story I wanted to do, kind of a "don't take the ride" story. I knew I couldn't put it together the way I wanted to because I'm not a writer. I was comfortable with the visual style, but I needed a really fun story so we could get it in front of people who would be willing to put money into it. I took it to one of the writers, Kevin Haskin. We did a little co-development on it, then got it in the hands of Vision Entertainment via our lead, Michelle Page, who was friends with the guys at Vision. They enjoyed the script and thought it would be a fun psycho-horror-thriller, and said, "Let's do this." From that point, it was balls-to-the-wall filmmaking. It was a very quick process - I wasn't ready for it to go that quick.
I don't know if I would really call it a "fun" film, at least from a viewer's standpoint. Even for a horror film, it was very bleak and melancholy.
Yeah. I mean, for me, I have to have fun to go through the traumatic experience of filmmaking. It's not a slander on the audience on the audience in any way - I feel really good about that. But for me, it is fun to be at the helm, creating bleakness and madness. You can't play god in real life, but when you direct a movie, you do get to push that vision into something someone will watch. For me, that is fun. But I think a lot of sick shit is fun.
The story could have very easily fallen into mayhem, but it didn't. Maybe it was because it was beautifully photographed in such a peaceful, serene setting, but there was something about it that kept it from going over-the-top.
There are only so many ways you can get into a horror film - only so many tropes. So I was looking at execution. It's cool that you saw those things because I thought it would be awesome to put this fucked-up awesomeness inside this serene, beautiful environment. We had access to that, so it made sense to write the script like that and make it become part of the plot, part of the visual. That was something I really tried hard to do: make ugliness exist in this serenity; really keep the natural setting while still having terror going on in this house that you wouldn't think much of if you were driving by it. It's like, if you pick me up in a BMW, I'm not that scared. If you pick me up in a hearse, I'm freaked. You take me to a new cabin, I think, "Cool." You take me to a dilapidated cabin that is broken down with a cow mooing in the distance, I'm going to run away. Obviously, you should take the ride anyway, but if you are, hopefully that is a little more comforting.
There was a lot of religious iconography in the film, but it wasn't overt. What were you trying to say with that?
I wasn't so much trying to get across a message, but just trying to let [the audience] know that these things exist. The metaphor of the cross [that Mara's brother wears] was that religion can't save you in a situation like this, but it can exist. It wasn't supposed to be heavy handed, but basically it is saying, "When you're fucked, you're fucked." I would never condemn a person for religious beliefs, but the cross ends up coming back and becoming very important. That was special to me. The cross becomes important because [a person] chose to make it important. So it's a little question: maybe if you choose to be active in faith, it can do something for you. You're like the first person who spotted that. Kevin Haskin, one of the writers, would be really excited to hear that. It's actually blowing my mind that you are picking up on these little things and visuals. It's just cool to talk to someone who sees things differently.
Thank you! I really enjoyed the movie. It's avery basic tale and let's be honest - it's really not a new story. But the way it was presented, and the way it was photographed really took it to the next level.
Execution was big on my mind. How could we tell a story that has been told many, many times? We get labeled "torture porn" a lot. I don't necessarily agree with that - people will call a film what they will and I'm not going to argue with them - the fact that they watched it means a ton to me. You deserve to call it what you will after you've viewed the film - you've done your due-diligence, now you get an opinion. But I definitely don't see it [as torture porn]. We're not sawing off limbs for pleasure. Everything is motivated by something that is needed to elicit something from a character.
The other thing, thematically, I noticed are the family dynamics. They are really fucked up! It's almost a family melodrama taken to a really, really dark place.
Totally. Rogue River, to me, is the idea that family can fuck you. John and Lea can get together and do terrible things to you. Mara and Andrew have a really fucked-up family, due to something that you don't actually see in the movie anymore. Family, to me, is a scary thing, especially when motivated by the most impure thing. I've always been a fan of family being the darkest thing imaginable [in movies]. I know it's supposed to be a happy thing, but in this movie family can really fuck you. Basically, the movie is about two people who want to start a family in the home of this person's, who they just killed. To me, that's pretty gross.
You mentioned that in a previous cut of the film, we saw more about Mara and her brother's past. Can you elaborate on that?
In the film I shot, there is a scene where you see their dad had died. The mother has been dead, so all they have is each other. Mara gives her brother a cross in the house. She is a traveller, and they have a whole discussion about her wanting to take care of her dad's ashes all by herself. Andrew wanted her to wait for him. The twist [at the end of the movie] played better without that first conversation, at least for "the powers that be." We cut [that scene] and it turned out that it was kind of cool. I don't think the twist would have been as shocking with that scene at the beginning.
Do you have any plans for a sequel?
I wish. We do have a treatment for a prequel. I don't know if we will ever make that, but basically it would be John and Lea escaping a ward and going on a Natural Born Killers-esque "joyride" until they reach the cabin. If the opportunity to do that ever came up, I would totally be into it, but right now, it seems like a one-off.
What do you have coming up?
Hellhunters, which is a pilot, like a heavy metal horror pilot. There isn't a network yet but there are a number of execs who are interested in taking it to fruition. It's about these kids who are fans of this one comic book and they want to become this comic book hero in real life, but they become these murderous vigilantes.
We are also doing the final mix for Children of Sorrow. That is a POV "mockumentary"-style film. It's not like the typical "found footage" film. It's about a girl who lost her sister to a cult. So the girl decides to embed herself in this cult to find out what happened. While there, she finds out something terrifying about the cult - and herself. It is shot by the characters in the film, but then it is all edited together. Without a doubt, this is a movie. We are not trying to pass it off as real. We should be shopping that film relatively soon.
Rogue River is available on DVD June 5th.