Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek
Tagline: The thrill is in the hunt.
Updated: 12-18-2005

Australian horror is nothing new — without plumbing the depths too deeply, you can find standout scary cinema from the 70s (Peter Weir’s Cars That Ate Paris), 80s (Richard Franklin’s Roadgames), and 90s (Peter Jackson’s Braindead). Australian horror filmmakers like to exploit the loneliness of the outback and to stereotype its residents, and Wolf Creek is no exception; that’s what makes it so atmospheric — creepy, hairy, toothless, knife-wielding whackos skulking around in a totally isolated area where there’s no one to help you is not exactly a comfortable feeling.


Wolf Creek feels comfortable at first, which makes you all the more disconcerted… you know something very, very bad is going to happen to the three carefree friends who set out to go backpacking in Wolf Creek in search of a meteorite-made crater. Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips) and two English girls, Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi), first run into trouble when they return from their hike to where their clunker is parked. It won’t start, and they prepare to spend the night in the outback.


As luck would have it, a friendly Aussie called Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) happens by and offers them a tow to his place, where he says he’ll fix their car. He regales the trio with stories of his career as a vermin hunter, delighting in reliving the deaths of the “animals” he’s dispatched.


It turns out Mick is a sadistic serial killer, specializing in hapless tourists. He soon has the three young people subdued, and the scenes of torture that follow are truly cringe-inducing and horrifying. They’re almost painful to watch, which is a testament to the fine acting in Wolf Creek. Jarratt, reminiscent of the repugnant murderer in last year’s High Tension, is particularly exceptional — no doubt he’ll be the star of many nightmares in the years to come (you might remember him from 1975’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, or the currently running TV series McLeod’s Daughters).


First time writer/director Greg McLean shows strong promise, but he needs to find his own style — Wolf Creek is something akin to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Blair Witch Project, and it simply doesn’t quite work as a whole. The characters flip-flop between being really smart, then turning incredibly stupid.


SPOILER ALERT: In one scene, the girls have escaped in a car but wind up hobbled by an expected cliff. Mick is right behind them in another vehicle, just out of view. Liz has a brilliant idea: push the car over the cliff, and Mick will think they have perished. They do this, and it seems to work. Mick parks his vehicle at the cliff’s edge, unable to see the girl hiding nearby. He leaves the cliffside and starts down, checking their wrecked vehicle. He’s going to see they’re not inside. He’s going to know his prey are still nearby. While he’s gone, Liz and Kristy jump in his car but he’s taken the keys with him. Do the girls then push his car over the cliff? Maybe they’ll crush him with it. If not, at least they’ll all be on foot. But no, they don’t think of that.


END SPOILER. Another major problem I had with Wolf Creek is the very poor cinematography. I understand it’s a low-budget film and I understand the look they were going for, but we have seen enough of this overly dark, super-shaky camera style. Film is a visual medium, so I expect to not only be able to see what’s happening but I expect not to wind up with a migraine for my trouble.


Wolf Creek is, as advertised, a highly disturbing, grueling horror movie. I have a reasonably high tolerance for scenes of torture, but I prefer them to be cinematic — think: the dentist scene in Marathon Man, or the motel room scene in The Devil’s Rejects — not so realistic that I feel nothing but depressed when the film is over.


I’m giving Wolf Creek a marginal recommendation since it doesn’t shy away from being a gritty serial killer movie, and since the acting is quite compelling. McLean might be a director to watch for — we’ll see what he does next in 2007, with his next Aussie-styled horror (a giant croc, this time — again starring Jarrett, and also Radha Mitchell) called Rogue.


In case you are wondering how true the “inspired by a true story” is, the three protagonists are entirely dreamed up, but the killer is loosely based on Ivan Milat, an Australian man convicted of murdering seven backpackers in Sydney during the 1990s, and suspected of killing and hiding many more.


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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson

Latest User Comments:
I rented this last week,.... Had high hopes only to be bored to tears. Over indulgant, pointless and very, very poor. What could have had potential died after the opening minutes. A swing and a miss! Vern.
07-01-2006 by The Vern discuss
Australian Horror?
I know you yanks aren't known for your worldly views, but "Braindead" an Australian horror movie? Come on. Peter Jackson (the director, now famous for the Lord of the Rings trilogy) is from New Zealand (which is not part of Australia) and Braindead is a comedy, not a horror. That would be like saying: Die Hard, the Mexican porno starring Bruce Willis.
06-04-2006 by Chato discuss
[COLOR=firebrick]I actually paid to see this movie... that's what horrifying. Slow moving, nothing interesting happening for what seemed like hours. It had no plot. Just another "lost and in the middle of nowhere" movie. I mean get a new story line. Preferably a good one next time. So many rip off cheaply made horror films out right now. (And I'm not saying cheaply made horror films are always awful but this one really was.)[/COLOR]
04-02-2006 by CharmedOne discuss