I have to be honest, my first impressions of the trailer were not good. I actually thought that it was going to be some sort of werewolf film, I guess I was wrong. More than that, it looked like it was going to be another standard horror film. Throw on the “based on true events” tag, and we’re off to the races. Then the second advertising wave hit. This wave brought with it a better look at the washed out intense look, as well as positive clips from the likes of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Well, looking for a new horror film, off I went to the theater like the dutiful genre fan that I am. My experience was a mixed bag.
Wolf Creek is based on true events. Primarily Ivan Milat, who was convicted of 7 murders between 1989 and 1992. I read a little bit about him, and believe me, he is not a pleasant man, not the kind of guy to invite along on your camping trip! It seems that he was not the only inspiration, as there have been, and may still be, a number of these so-called “backpack killers” in the Aussie Outback.
The movie opens slowly as we are introduced to our heroic trio of Outback tourists. We don’t learn much about them, but we do watch as they pack their stuff and start visiting various parks in the Outback as they travel through the emptiness. It takes a good 40 minutes before we really get anywhere, and I think this is the biggest problem with the movie.
The three twenty-somethings make pointless conversation in an attempt to display depth. Sadly, this leads nowhere in terms of the characters, but it is not a complete loss. Despite giving us characters to care about, it does build a tense atmosphere. We all know that something is going to happen, but no one knows what or when, and the build is effective even if the character development is not. Despite their lack of initial development, the two women do a very good job at playing their terror filled alter-personalities. They were very convincing with their screaming and running, very good.
As we near the halfway point, the trio have reached Wolf Creek and the tension is really starting to build. Car trouble and the arrival of friendly, yet mysterious, stranger brings with it a near unbearable amount of dread. The moment we have all been waiting for was drawing near.
From the moment the stranger arrives, through to the climax is some of the most tense cinema you’ll see this year. Served up on the screen are chases, torture, dismemberment, and a healthy dose of twisted psycho.
Our bad guy, as portrayed by John Jarratt, is the most charismatic screen presence since Bill Mosely as Otis in The Devil’s Rejects. Jarratt’s psycho could be the Firefly family’s presence Down Under. He goes about his work with a maniacal glee, he takes joy in his job of torture and murder, he doesn’t get all serious and morose. He knows what he needs to do and enjoys doing it. I think that is scarier than any serial killer with a back story of parental abuse, it is the fear of the unknown, we don’t know what makes this guy tick.
Wolf Creek was written and directed by Greg McLean. He does a good job at creating the atmosphere and giving horror fans a decent dose of sadism. He captures the tension with a grainy film stock and a washed out, muted color palette. What he needs is a script doctor, or another screenwriter. The script works towards creating the charismatic baddie, but all but ignores the people we are supposed to care about, and considering how much time we spend with them, we should be given something to cling to.
One last thing I’d like to touch on is the horror film audience. I found the actions of those involved in the onscreen action to be well within the realm of reality, that is why I am so annoyed by utterances from the crowd about how stupid the characters are. Granted, this is not true of all films, but it does apply to this one. The situations they are placed in are extreme, how can you (not you, but you know what I mean) honestly say their actions are stupid? There is no telling how you would react in their shoes. I don’t know, they just got under my skin. Situations like that will cause people to act in strange ways, rational thought usually doesn’t enter the thought process. Whatever.
Bottomline. This is a pretty gritty film that delivers the goods more than many other so-called horror films. This ranks up with The Devil’s Rejects and Haute Tension among the best horror films of the year. John Jarratt’s performance will stand up as a great villain despite the thin victims. I do recommend this to horror fans, just be warned, it does take a while to get going.