Writer-director Greg McLean’s feature film debut (his background is in theatre and art) is a terrifying, stalking example of cruel and gritty horror. Influenced by Dogme 95, stylishly shot on HD and beginning with the statement “Based on a true story”, Wolf Creek is disturbingly realistic and, even more disturbingly, all too plausible. McLean has since stated that the film is an amalgam of various recent serial killer cases (such as Bradley Murdoch, Ivan Millat “the backpack killer”, and the Snowtown murderers) claiming, “Australia, once the world’s favourite beach, suddenly became a place where lonely, deranged men with murder on their minds stalked empty highways.”
Two British backpackers, Liz (Magrath) and Kristie (Morasi), hook up with Sydney good-timer Ben (McPhee) to drive across country to Wolf Creek , the location of an ancient meteorite crater. Drinking, telling scary stories about UFOs, and flirting as they go, the trip takes them deep into the outback. Eventually reaching the enormous and eerie crater, they discover their car has died and all of their watches have stopped. Freaked out, they believe they have to spend the night there. That is until the seemingly jolly and friendly bushman Mick Taylor (Jarratt) drives up in his truck and rescues them. Towing their car to his place and seemingly going further into the depths of the outback (“where did he say this place was?” “South”), they eventually reach a deserted mining town Taylor has converted into home. After yarning and joking around the campfire, along with some gruesome stories about Taylor ‘s past career as a vermin shooter on a farm, Liz wakes up confused, bound and gagged.
Wolf Creek is a welcome sign that the horror film is going through a well-deserved revival. A number of films from around the world (particularly Asia and Europe) have brought the horror genre back to life, while Hollywood (once the hub of the modern horror film) churns out its tepid quota of misjudged remakes, sequels, and parodies. Touted as Australia’s answer to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Wolf Creek doesn’t quite manage to hit the same relentless pitch as Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic, but effortlessly tramples the earth down on Marcus Nispel’s IQ-bereft and pointless 2003 remake.
What makes the film so effective is that it takes its time. The first half of the film leisurely introduces us, not only to the believable and likeable characters, but also to the vast and breathtaking landscapes of the Australian outback, which become such an integral aspect of the terrifying final half. Switching between extremely dark and claustrophobic scenes within the camp, to agoraphobic uses of wide-open spaces and long stretching roads, McLean handles the tension beautifully, especially in the scene in which a battered Kristie escapes barefoot down a highway, and manages to flag down a car. She soon finds out that no matter how far away you think you can run, and how alone you think are, there is no escaping a lunatic carrying a high-powered rifle.
With an extremely atmospheric score from Francois Tetaz, and sumptuous imagery by Will Gibson, Wolf Creek manages to capture the uncanny, almost supernatural character of the outback, recalling films such as Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock (which also featured Jarrat in the cast). Jarrat’s performance is simply brilliant, providing a manic, cackling swagger to the psychopathic Taylor , the image of the macho Aussie (think of an ageing Steve Irwin or Crocodile Dundee with a beer-gut), complete with bushman hat and phrases like “fair dinkum”. At one gruesome point, Taylor mocks a terrified and cornered Liz with the Dundee line, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife!”
Dir. Greg McLean, 2005 , Australia , 99 mins
Cast: John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Andy McPhee, Kestie Morassi
Review by Angus Macdonald