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Wolf Creek (DVD)

Wolf CreekStarring John Jarrett, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips

Directed by Greg McLean

Released by Dimension Home Video


Wolf CreekStarring John Jarrett, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips

Directed by Greg McLean

Released by Dimension Home Video


I’m glad I managed to get my hands on a DVD of this film for review as I’ve been wanting to talk about it in an “official” capacity for a while now but never had the chance. Wolf Creek had been touted all over the ‘net as one of the more intense thrillers in recent memory, so of course fan opinion on it is all over the place. Mine falls somewhere in-between seeing it as a new classic and as victim of its own hype. That’s what happens when you wait too long to see something everyone’s talking about.

The plot of Wolf Creek is simple, indeed one of the more basic horror movie archetypes, but as is the case with all good films, horror or otherwise, its effectiveness lies in the believability of the situation and the audience’s response to the characters. In this Wolf Creek comes very close to succeeding on almost every level, but unfortunately it all seems to fall apart in the film’s third act, a trend that is far too common in our genre these days.

The story follows three friends — Liz (Magrath), Kristy (Morassi), and Ben (Phillps) — who head out on a road trip across Australia to just hang out and have some fun. Early on it’s established that there’s something between Ben and Liz, which eventually leads to one of the most realistic and touching scenes of the film, a scene that demonstrates the natural acting skills of Phillips and Magrath as well as McLean’s solid direction.
The trio make the trek to Wolf Creek, a meteor crater in the middle of the Australian Outback, hike around for the day, have some lunch, and get ready to hit the road for their next destination only to find that their car won’t start. After some half-assed attempts to figure out what’s wrong with it (none of them have any mechanical experience), they settle in for the night, preparing to sleep in the car and go for help the next day. Some strange lights initially freak them out as up to this point there has been all sorts of talk of alien abductions and strange happenings in the Wolf Creek area, but the lights ultimately resolve themselves to be a pickup truck driven by Outbacker Mick Taylor (Jarrett).

He tries to fix the car for them but eventually has to deliver the bad news that it’s in need of some work and offers to tow them back to his place where he can get it running for them in no time. When they arrive, all seems normal, but the smiling, friendly veneer Taylor has been putting forth soon starts to dissolve, and his true nature comes out: that of a raving psychopath. Needless to say, things don’t go well.

You wait and wait for the horror to start up, and when it does, it still manages to be pretty jarring. The sense of true isolation, being miles away from anyone or anything that could possibly help, is really driven home for the viewer, be it through the many beautiful wide shots that are filled with nothing but open space (no place to hide there) or simply the long, tense tow back to Mick’s place, which we get the impression takes hours. When one of the girls wakes up in a shed, hogtied and gagged, you can see why it looks about as hopeless as can be.

However, that same character’s actions while she tries to avoid Taylor are what really removes the viewer from the action and makes them realize, likely for the fist time, that they’re watching a movie. That may sound odd, but until one of them starts doing really stupid, screen-yelling generating actions, it’s pretty easy to lose yourself in Wolf Creek. Said actions aren’t enough to ruin the entire film, and it still stands up against some of the best similarly themed horror films of the past few decades, but it’s a taint on what could have otherwise been a pitch-perfect horror flick.
What manages to help keep it in the realm of modern classic (a phrase that admittedly makes no sense and yet seems strangely appropriate here) is the performance of John Jarrett as Mick Taylor. The features on this DVD point out again and again what a genuinely nice guy Jarrett is (and star of an Australian sitcom in which he plays a jovial father), but you wouldn’t know it by his turn as Taylor. Truly one of the most fully realized screen psychos in years, Mick is the epitome of evil. He starts off seeming friendly enough, making jokes and keeping the kids laughing, building their trust; but when he’s got them on his turf, the jokes dry up and his serious side comes out. Taylor has been alone in the Outback for far too long, and nothing brings him more pleasure than hurting others, which he just so happens to be very skilled at. It’s his performance in the last third of the movie that helps offset some of the stupid things the characters do that seem to convey a need to stay in their current life-threatening situation.

Wolf Creek is not only a great way to make your debut; it also looks far better than most (hell, any) first-time indie features. And it really is indie, being made for just over a million dollars when it was all said and done. This look is due in no small part to the wise decision to shoot on high-def as opposed to regular DV, allowing for some truly amazing in-camera effects and lighting techniques to be used. McLean teamed with cinematographer and friend Wil Gibson (who is also shooting McLean’s next film, Rogue) for Creek, and the featurette on the DVD goes into what makes their relationship work so well and really shows Gibson as a multi-talented cameraman.

So that brings us to those features, doesn’t it? I mention the look of the film because of just how fantastic it comes across on DVD. Coming from a digital source sure didn’t hurt, and the sound is top-notch as well. The primary feature here is the 50-minute featurette “The Making of Wolf Creek“, which delves into nearly every aspect of the film’s creation intercut with an interview with McLean, who lays out both the technical and anecdotal sides of assembling Wolf Creek from the ground up. The length is just right, allowing coverage from pre-production through to the editing and scoring of the film, and the only time it really drags is right before the focus switches to the editing process, when it transitions to straight-up behind-the-scenes footage without voiceover. It doesn’t last too long so I doubt you’ll get bored, but it does serve to slow the pace down a bit. It illustrates just what a fun shoot this was, however, despite the cold weather and long days. Everyone looks like they’re having so much damn fun!

There’s also a feature-length commentary with McLean, producer Matt Hearn, and stars Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi. At times it can be a bit dull when McLean and the producer go deep into the technical aspects of some of the shots, but the girls serve to bring it back to a more lighthearted look at the film with well timed jokes and remembrances, which gives the track a nice balance.
Other than that there’s one seemingly pointless deleted scene and the trailer. That’s it. Granted, Wolf Creek wasn’t a blockbuster film, but there had to be have been a bit more Dimension could’ve fit on the DVD, right? At least one deleted scene is mentioned by McLean and the girls which they say will be on the disc but isn’t, so I’m sure there were plenty more.

So the features are a bit of a letdown, but at least it’s not bare bones like I had feared. All in all Wolf Creek is a damn fine film with just a few flaws, but if you go in with the knowledge that it’s not perfect like some have implied, chances are you’ll dig it, too.

Special Features
Commentary by director/writer Greg McLean, executive producer Matt Hearn, and actors Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi
Making of Wolf Creek featurette
Deleted scene
Trailer

4 out of 5

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Johnny Butane