Wolf Creek (2005)



Reviewed by Andrew Kasch

Starring John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Andy McPhee, Kestie Morassi, Guy Petersen, and Nathan Phillips

Directed by Greg McLean

Released by Dimension Films


Reviewed by Andrew Kasch

Starring John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Andy McPhee, Kestie Morassi, Guy Petersen, and Nathan Phillips

Directed by Greg McLean

Released by Dimension Films


It's impossible to discuss Wolf Creek without drawing comparisons to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Both are gritty backwoods survival films that not only wave the "true story" flag, but share the same sensibilities when it comes to crafting primal dread. In a way, the two feel almost like companion pieces.

This is hardly a complaint, however, as Wolf Creek is the best film of its kind since Tobe Hooper’s classic.

Loosely based on Australia’s notorious “Backpacker Murders”, the plot follows Liz, Ben, and Kristy - three young tourists who set out on a cross country drive. Their destination: the secluded area of Wolf Creek, a famous 30,000 year old meteor crater deep in the outback. After a long and eventful trip, the trio suddenly find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere when their car fails to start. Before long, they’re rescued by Mick Taylor (John Jarrett of Better Homes and Gardens fame), an eccentric hick who tows them to his nearby campsite. Needless to say, he doesn’t offer them gardening tips.

Sure, this fits the mold of countless genre flicks, but debut filmmaker Greg McLean lends a sense of realism that makes this one of the most disturbing films in years. Through its deliberate build-up and visceral pay-off, Wolf Creek delivers a level of intensity that puts Alexander Aja’s gimmicky High Tension to hollow paint-by-numbers shame. This is a true horror film in every sense of the word: Brutal, nihilistic, and thoroughly unpleasant.

McClean wisely devotes the entire first half to his characters. There are a host of travel sequences, as our back-packing buddies experience the great outdoors, wild parties, and blossoming romance. Yet even during these innocent moments, a cloud of dread hangs over every frame. You know something bad is going to happen and you have little choice but to anxiously await that initial gut punch to set the horrific events in motion. The fact that we get to know and care for the victims makes the ensuing violence much more difficult to watch.

This kind of film really hinges on the strength of its cast and the performances are flawless across the board. Jarrett’s Mick Taylor is a madman for the ages; a seemingly trustworthy individual whose friendly exterior is stripped away to reveal a genuine monster. It’s true that a single look can tell a thousand words and Jarrett does just that with his bone-chilling psychotic stare. He even delivers wise-cracking remarks with a frightening sincerity. Likewise, actors Cassandra Magrath, Nathan Phillips, and Kestie Morassi have a great chemistry which elevates their character above run-of-the-mill slasher fodder. They’re not horny party animals, but your everyday friends who want nothing more than to enjoy a good slice of life (which, tragically, doesn’t happen).

All of this is strengthened by the use of grainy hi-def cinematography that gives Wolf Creek a raw pseudo-documentary vibe. The visual aesthetic makes serious use of the Australian landscape, which slowly becomes one of the film’s central characters. As our trio moves closer to their destination (and eventual misfortune), the beautiful countryside slowly twists into a murky, unforgiving wasteland. When the second act is in full swing, Mother Nature seems every bit as threatening as the knife-wielding lunatic.

Admittedly, the film hits a few of those age-old stalker clichés (the “missing keys” scenario comes up on three separate occasions) and the characters don’t always do the smartest things under pressure (then again, who does?) - but these flaws hardly detract from the overall realism.

While a film about a rural serial killer may not be a high concept, McLean brilliantly succeeds with his simple goal of delivering a nasty and provocative thrill ride. Most indie breakouts never live up to the hype – and this may yet be another casualty of expectation – but Wolf Creek definitely comes out ahead of the pack.

Although something tells me it won’t help Australia’s tourist market.

4 ½ out of 5

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