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Australia 2005
Directed by
Greg McLean
99 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4.5 stars

Wolf Creek

Synopsis: Three young people (Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips) take a camping trip in the Outback. When their car won't start, a friendly cockie offers them a tow. But how friendly is he?

Even pulling back a little on critical enthusiasm for this film because of its disturbing, out-and-out scariness, one still must give full credit to first-time feature film writer/director Greg McLean for a remarkable achievement. Many will nominate it as the best Australian film of the year. It is certainly the scariest, possibly the scariest Australian film ever. Not that I know much about such things, but then I expect nor will most readers of this review and it is such an audience rather than horror movie buffs who will be impressed by Wolf Creek.

McLean opens his story in video diary mode, somewhat reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry (2002) showing us three cheery 20-somethings heading for the great outdoors. Then things start to go a little wrong. Of course this is what we expect but the director doesn’t make it obvious how wrong things are, so when the laconic bushie (John Jarratt) turns up we’re not quite sure if he’s the bad guy or whether it was the yokels back at the petrol station or maybe something completely different. Let it be said that from this point on, things go VERY wrong. The plot line is no doubt generic but McLean gives it a distinctive idiomatic touch, eschewing the heavy-handed special effects treatment characteristic of the horror/slasher genre and going for a more mundane, naturalistic effect typical of Australian cinema (one  might also suspect that McLean was familiar with an early Australian entry into the field, Terry Bourke's 1972 slasher/horror film, Night Of Fear).. Despite its very different allegiances, Wolf Creek can certainly be placed in the “alien place” tradition inaugurated with Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) and taken into much darker directions with Summerfield (1977).

Somewhat oddly, it seems that it is precisely this realism that has inflamed off-shore critics in particular, who, have derided it for NOT choreographing the violence and splashing the screen with gushers of fake blood, or more succinctly, not entertaining them as the genre apparently is intended to do. All I can say is, well sorreeee… I didn’t realize that mutilation and murder were supposed to be such a hoot. This objection is twinned with another - the fact that the film claims to be based on “actual events”. The argument is that as the events depicted did NOT actually take place but are a fictional construction, McLean is not only making a false claim but shamefully exploiting the memory of those who have been murdered in the Outback at the hands of people like Ivan Milat. A cheap shot, in other words. But was that said of The Blair Witch Project (1999) with its explicit and entirely false claim to be fact based? From memory that film was hailed as work of genius when all it really had going for it was that ruse. Certainly the Australian Tourism Board has reason to be unhappy but the point is that McLean’s film is so strong (at least for wimps who don’t watch horror) as not to need that title. As with all good films, of whatever stripe, it convinces you of the reality of its fictions. Just as the endearing fact-based fancies of Crocodile Dundee (1986) generated a huge boost in airline tickets sales to the You Beaut Country this film will have back-packers scrambling for their Rough Guides to Anywhere But Downunder.

Director McLean has a long career in commercial film-making and his experience shows here but for all his skill and that of his team, the masterstroke was in the casting of John Jarratt (an alumnus of Picnic) who gives us probably the most heinous (yet, or because, very real) characters ever to have appeared in our cinematic history. Certainly there are some shortcomings, notably an extended sequence when Cassandra Magrath messes around with a video camera when she supposedly is being pursued by the flannel-shirted killer, and the ending brings a rather over-hasty resolution to events but you’ll remember the effect of this film long after you’ve forgotten any weaknesses in its plotting.




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