In an ambitious move on the distributor’s part, the theatrical release of Wolf Creek fell on Christmas Day. In its limited play areas the movie did well and fans seemed generally satisfied with this ultra-realistic tale loosely based on the notorious Australian serial killer Ivan Milat. Torture is of the first degree here, but unfortunately, it’s too little too late and the uneasy mix of mysticism and gore falls short.
Wolf Creek tells the story of three backpackers who run afoul of a backwoods/outback type madman when their car breaks down at Wolf Creek (the Creek is actually a landmark of a giant crater). Before they meet up with Mick Taylor (John Jarrett), strange things happen to them at the foot of the Creek. First their watches stop, then the car engine won’t turn, leaving them stranded in the barren Australian wasteland. There’s lots of foreshadowing but none of it leads the viewer to what it will ultimately experience, the last third is a long and gruesome torture sequence featuring the three hiker’s attempts to survive.
Where writer/director Greg McLean goes wrong is trying to combine too much of another Australian thriller, the supernatural (and superb) Picnic at Hanging Rock with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a marriage that doesn’t mix well, making the first half of the movie feel like a rotten red herring. Wolf Creek does have its strong points, the build up is great, thanks to the three lead actors who are simply the most realistic young adults I’ve seen in the spate of recent disappointing horror releases. There is lots of subtly creepy dialog that foretells their fate as well as some great off-the-cuff remarks about the Creek itself and why the comet was drawn to this particular part of the earth, much like Mick who uses the Creek as his playground for murder. However, all of this loses steam once the killer shows up. He’s silly and comically over the top. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem that odd that he’d be this way, as most serial killers seem to lack any kind of real human core, but his portrayal is more the stuff of Scary Movie than Maniac. By the time we get to the brutality, it’s a cold viewing as the likeable characters start doing stupid things. That might work in the old 80s slashers and it certainly added to their charm, but now it’s just frustrating. It would seem that McLean does have an eye for the wicked but he needs to decide exactly what genre he’s speaking to, and then he must speak clearly.
This review originally appeared in Entertainment Today