Dir: GregMclean. Australia. 2005. 98mins.
Worldpremiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month but picked up byDimension/Miramax late last year, Wolf Creek is an extremelywell-crafted horror movie supposedly based on "real events". Although those"real events" are largely fabricated, the film has a ring of truth toit which renders it genuinely disturbing. Teenagers around the world will beterrified by the goings on in this independent Australian production. Forgetthe supernatural horror of Boogeyman or The Grudge. Wolf Creekreturns a nasty human face to the genre and it stands to make a killing at thebox office and on DVD.
The film might,in fact, prove too intense for many scare-hungry teens. As well as scenes ofgore, torture and mutilation, there is rampant swearing and sexual violencewhich will produce prohibitive ratings in most territories. Wolf Creekalso goes beyond the formulas of a mere slasher pic, and its deranged Outbackpsychopath is uncomfortably believable in a way that Jason, Freddy or MichaelMyers are not.
First-time writer-director Greg Mclean has made a handfulof shorts and directed opera and theatre before making his feature film debuthere. His experience with characters shows, although the drama falls down badlyin the third act.
Most impressiveof all is the first half hour of the film in which two twentysomething Englishgirl backpackers called Liz and Kristy set out with a new Aussie pal called Benon a car trip across Australia. Aided by naturalistic performances by newcomersCassandra Magrath (Liz), Kestie Morassi (Kristy) and Nathan Phillips (Ben),McLean captures the friendship between the three with documentary-styleauthenticity. Their youthful lack of responsibility, enthusiasm for romance,adventure and booze and the subtle attractions and aggravations that developbetween them are far more well-observed than the mechanical set-ups of the FridayThe 13th or Halloween films. The characters appear like real people.
As does theiraggressor. As played with depraved aplomb by John Jarrett, Mick Taylor, thefriendly rural man who tows their car to the remote old mine where he liveswhen it breaks down on a visit to Wolf Creek National Park, is any traveller'snightmare. Promising to fix their car in the morning, he gives them water andfood and they all settle down for the night.
Liz wakes upbound and gagged and lying in an outhouse and soon realises that they have beendrugged. Having set herself free, she creeps over to a barn where she seesKristy tied up and hanging from the ceiling. No longer the friendly local, Mickshows his true colours as a crazed redneck who rapes, tortures and kills asmany abducted tourists as he can lay his hands on.
Causing adistraction, the enterprising Liz manages to free Kristy and the two get awayfrom the mine in one of Mick's trucks with him in hot pursuit. They lose him ata cliff edge over which they give the impression that they have hurtled.
Leaving thehysterical Kristy in a nearby wood, Liz creeps back into the mine to try andfind Ben - but Mick is not far behind.
It is in thefinal stretch that the film loses a lot of its impact. Only one of the threeyoungsters survives according to the true story, and Mick was never found, sothe killings of the other two represent pure conjecture on Mclean's part.
After the first victim is murdered (a few fingers slicedoff and the spinal cord severed), the film becomes more formulaic as Mick popsup from nowhere and picks them off one by one; by this time it's just a game ofsurvival and Mclean doesn't give the three any respite or moments tocontemplate their dilemma. It is a shame that the characters Mclean hasdeveloped in such detail are given no room to fight for their lives with more,well, character.
Nevertheless, ina time when ever-bankable horror pictures are being churned out in the US withincreasing lack of imagination and care, Wolf Creek is a cut above thenorm. It offers plenty of material for a scintillating trailer and, onceaudiences are in the theatre, they might actually be surprised to experience atruly disturbing scary movie. Can it be long before Mick Taylor returns in WolfCreek 2'
Prod cos: True Crime Channel, Darclight Films,Mushroom Pictures, Arclight Films, South Australia Film Commission, FilmFinance Corp. Australia, 403 Films
US dist: DimensionFilms
Int'l sales: ArclightFilms, Miramax International
Exec prods: MattHearn, Gary Hamilton, Simon Hewitt, Martin Fabinyi, George Adams, MichaelGudinksi
Prods: Greg Mclean,David Lightfoot
Scr: Greg Mclean
Cine: Will Gibson
Prod des: Robert Webb
Ed: Jason Ballantine
Mus: Francois Tetaz
Main cast: JohnJarratt, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi