A lot of people, and especially Horror fans, decry the state of Hollywood Horror movie manufacture. For a fact, the best Horror movies made in the US are not, as a whole, bred in Hollywood. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (original), I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, BLACK CHRISTMAS, THE HILLS HAVE EYES (original and remake), HALLOWEEN, THE EVIL DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, were all made outside of Hollywood, and twice that many Horror classics were made outside of the U.S.A.!
Hollywood Horror manufactured films like FRIDAY THE 13th and HALLOWEEN sequels, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels, the SCREAM, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID, URBAN LEGENDS, and LEPRECHAUN sequels, and so on, have long been derided and rightly so. Movie after movie of lame-brain TV-soap opera teeny boppers with their inane high school problems, begging to be put out of their self-centered misery, have long enticed the movie goer to crave their offing.
Worse, so many of these films, as banal and derivative as can be, actually have their highly elevated movie critic who swears by their entertainment value!
"So sad, when you're young, to be told, you're having fun."
Well put all that away with WOLF CREEK. The makers of WOLF CREEK don't care about all of the crap you've seen, all of your expectations, all of your slickly packaged, marketed, audience tested, formulaic shit traipsing about as art courtesy of some single throw away scene or two. The filmmakers also don't give a damn about your MTV attention span.
The movie begins with a kid buying a beat-up old station wagon. Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips: UNDER THE RADAR) just wants to buy a car, but he's spoke of the road trip to the salesman, who is so taken with the idea of the kid with two single women on a road trip, that he can't help slavering over the sexual possibilities. In a matter of seconds, we get a subtle idea of what kind of person Ben is. These touches are throughout the movie, lending credence to the portrayals I've never seen in the more ham-handed overwrought dramatics of Hollywood TeeVee Teenies.
Then we cut to two girls on a beach. They are discussing an upcoming trip across Australia. Liz (Cassandra McGrath) tells Kristy (Kestie Morassi: DARKNESS FALLS, and two comedies named after AC/DC songs) that Ben fancies her. A discussion about him, the road trip, other things, and meanwhile, Ben is having a mechanic check it out. Frustratingly for Ben, it takes forever, but it's important to have a car that runs when crossing the great barrier of the Australian interior.
The three lives of these three people, with their different threads, gradually weave together. By the time they start their trip we understand that they are young, inexperienced about the world, naive in the nature of older people, naive about each other, romantic, ignorant, foolish in some ways, and gingerly craving excitement and adventure. In short, they are like most young adults, throwing themselves into life and trying to make their way.
One thing they are not is stupid. Nor are they overly vain, selfish, self-centered, petty little cliqued and conforming egoists - like their fictional counterparts in Hollywood Horror manufactured movies of the last 25+ years.
I've met a number of folks from outside of the US, who wrongly assume that, because the Hollywood Horror manufactured movies are what they see, there must be an overwhelming majority of American audience for it. This shows how detached and clueless you can be when judging a country or culture by its pop entertainment.
So the three travel onward through Western Australia, moving toward the east. As they travel we get to know them, and all three are pretty good people, flawed as they are. But there are only three of them, and this is a Horror movie, and we know that something really bad is going to happen to them.
Arriving at Wolf Creek, after a small confrontation with some local yokels, the three hike to the rim of the meteor crater for which the real Wolfe Creek, Australia is famous.
Choosing to rest there, like tourists rest at most campgrounds and national parks, they wake in the late daylight when it begins to rain. Making it back to their car, they discover that their watches have stopped - together - at the same time: Worse, their car won't start (an internal combustion engine is, in fact, an electric and petrol powered timing device). The hours drag by with no other tourists arriving or anyone who can help.
In their neck of the Australian outback, cell phones are useless. Night descends as the trio grow steadily more desperate about their situation. Still no one comes around, and in the vast desert around them, a light can be seen for many miles in all directions. The hours slowly pass and finally, in the late night, growing ever more desperate and crabby, the three hunker down to sleep through the night and hope for help in the morning.
Some indiscernable time in the evening, vehicle lights come up the road. It turns out to be a good natured bloke who noticed their flashlight from deep in the desert. Knowing that nobody in their right mind would be out on the rim at such a late hour, he drove up to see if they were in trouble. Suspicious of a stranger in the night, but needing help, they accept his offer of fixing their vehicle back at his place, which is in the opposite direction from where they were going.
Merry Mishaps occur.
This is an incredibly well made film. Thanks to a judicious use of editing, the long wait times of our heroes are expressed rather than endured by the audience.
Writer / Director / Producer Greg McLean, in his first theatrical release, wisely chose a hand-held camera rather than a tripod like many budding directors use. Indie films are made on very low budgets and indie Horror films are often made on micro budgets.
So newbie directors, wanting to present their film as professional as possible, often go for the steady tripod. This means that you find yourself sitting in the audience, watching a lot of two shots where the actors spout their lines at each other, instead of watching their faces where the actors act. Done well, the overall effect of a hand held camera for new directors is that the camera is never "married" to one shot. At its worst, the camera can be bouncing all over the place, nauseating the audience, like in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, or even THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. At its best, coupled with good editing skills, hand held camera work can put us right into the lives of the characters, as seen in EL MARIACHI, 28 DAYS LATER, and WOLF CREEK.
What happens to the trio at the allegedly good samaritan's home makes the entire film take the expected turn for the worst, and the actors involved are so incredibly good that I was fully immersed into the picture, which was bad for me. The bad guy is truly evil, his sole motivation the enjoyment of watching others suffer by his hand.
Make no mistake, this film is brutal and cruel.
Based on two separate Australian serial killers who preyed on tourists, WOLF CREEK is gritty enough to make you sick. I watch one hell of a lot of Horror movies and even THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and CANNNIBAL HOLOCAUST didn't affect me like this one. There were several moments when I was utterly nauseated. All three of the young actors did extraordinary jobs in that I was totally into, and aghast, at their on screen suffering. The villain Mick Taylor (John Jarratt: PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, SUMMER CITY, PLUNGE INTO DARKNESS, NEXT OF KIN, DARK AGE), is stunning as an utterly charming, seemingly vulnerable man whose personality can whipsnap into rattlesnake viciousness.
Yes, WOLF CREEK is a Horror tale about campers who get theirs in a rural place. Yes, countless movies have been done on this theme. Just as themes of zombies, werewolves, and vampires, have been done countless times and will continue to be made.
WOLF CREEK soars above its peers of this theme, setting a new benchmark. The horror in this film is palpable. Nobody in the film is painted as a caricature. The lives of our three protags have value, and they value each other. Which is exactly the way it should be. You SHOULD be horrified and fear for the lives of these three humans. You SHOULD be able to understand, when they put themselves into a dangerous situation when logic would dictate running, that they want to save their friend.
They are out in the middle of the great, flat, Australian desert, and you likely aren't going to escape by simply running away on foot in the villain's own backyard.
Amazingly, there is very little gore and blood. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS had more blood. Any television episode of CSI has more gore.
Yet WOLF CREEK remains scary, horrifying, and sickening. It doesn't follow form, cliche, or convention. Believe it or not, it has received bad press because the storyline takes unexpected turns from well established Hollywood Horror manufactured movie tropes. This is the kind of Horror movie that fans keep hoping to see.
I'm not kidding gang, this is the real deal. I found it to be the absolute best of what a Horror movie should be and I give WOLF CREEK all five Shriek Girls.
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