There is a very common dream that many people (including myself) have had where something terrifying is happening to them, they go to scream and nothing comes out. No noise at all! Well it seems that mine and other peoples worst nightmares have been realized and recreated in “Wolf Creek”, because if you scream in this film the sound exists but no one is there to hear it. If your screams are not met by human ears, does this mean the situation is not real because no one else can attest to it? Not at all! “Wolf Creek” is a seminal Aussie horror film in a time where the word seminal is only used to describe legends or great achievements of the past.
“Wolf Creek” is the story of three carefree backpackers who are making their way around Australia. Australian, Ben (Nathan Phillips) and two British female friends Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and Liz (Cassandra Magrath), who appear to have made each others acquaintance not so long prior to their road trip. The three of them set out to travel all over the countryside, but it is Ben who has the idea to stop by “Wolf Creek” on the way to see a crater made by a meteorite. Both Ben and Kristy’s watches stop, then their car won’t start and they accept some help from a friendly stranger Mick (John Jarratt). Their worst nightmares could have never come close to the brutal reality that would soon greet them.
Writer/director Greg McLean has made a successful horror film that begins with a populated civilization and then proceeds to strip all of those elements away the closer they get to “Wolf Creek”. McLean has a total grasp of the lifestyle of backpackers and their habits which rings ever so true because one of my close friends spends a great deal of his life backpacking around the country and it is a culture within itself. After setting up that particular element, the film then moves into setting up the characters and their relationships with each other. The characters don’t reveal too much about themselves on their blithe journey, keeping it very casual and not too deep. It is at the lowest point of their human misery of which we learn the most about them. This is a very original way to get us to feel for the characters rather than wearing their hearts on their sleeve before the horror hits home.
Every single performance is the result of a cast that has gone to the far reaches of acting ability and even exceeded them. John Jarratt, cast entirely against type as the sadistic Mick Taylor, pulls off the greatest performance of his long career in a chilling role that has scared me more than almost anything I have ever seen! EVER SEEN! As a rather cynical moviegoer, that is definitely no easy task. No word or sentence is strong enough to convey my strong admiration for Jarratt in this role. Not to take anything away from Phillips, Morassi and Macgrath because they were equally as brilliant in a film that creates horror from the deepest darkest point of our humanity instead of a conventionally excessive body count.
The notion of the whacky outback character is something that has been played up for world audiences but that perception is somewhat of a fallacy to most Aussies. The stereotype of such characters often entails strange and eccentric in a menacing way. This stereotype is also aided by the spate of real backpacker killings that have haunted the country in recent years. Plus people feel that in a populated society we can all keep each other in check whereas in the outback, who do we have to keep an eye on them? What do they get up to? The mystery of the outback ethos leaves many people a little uncertain.
What makes “Wolf Creek” so terrifying is that even if these backpacking victims escape from the maniacal grips of their captor, they still remain lost somewhere within any one of Australia’s many outback and almost uncharted territories. They have no idea where they are and it could quite literally be anywhere as they are engulfed by endlessly monotonous desert land. The victims are fighting a battle not only against an unrelenting murderer; rather the bigger battle is against nature itself. Without maps, stores and our many examples of man made infrastructure, McLean’s whole recipe for this classy horror film is raw fear. After all the very definition of horror is to induce the vicarious feeling of fear and that is what “Wolf Creek” does only by relying on just that.
This film has officially entered my very prestigious yet sadly anorexic list of my favorite Australian films of all-time and in a time where we Australians have wanted to see more from our films, “Wolf Creek” has answered the challenge. And then some!