“Wolf Creek” is one of those movies that interrupts a slice of life with sinister overtones and becomes a gripping struggle for survival. In his feature debut, Australian writer/director Greg McLean turns a fact-inspired occurance into an engaging and well-crafted thriller and the stereotypical jolly man from the Australian outback into a figure from a nightmare.
Somewhat inspired by the Dogme 95 movement (like “28 Days Later,” though he conceived it before that movie came out), McLean has produced a film inexpensively by shooting digitally and on location. But Wolf Creek is more polished than expected considering the economic budget. The movie looks about as good as HD material transferred to film can look, and the handheld photography, while suggesting a documentary feel, is obviously planned out for maximum effect.
The movie indicates that all is not right from the opening titles, which tell us the film is based on actual events and that of Australians who go missing, 90 percent are found within a month…but some are never found. Following the titles, however, is what appears to be an ordinary portrayal of carefree youth with a calm tone, in the thriller tradition, before any themes of abduction and violence entery the frame.
Unlike last year’s horrifying Sundance hit, “Open Water,” with its rather film-school-ish material before the frightening stuff, this one has a solid opening that creates characters, ultimately making the subsequence events more frightening.
Three college-age kids vacationing in the outback, one a man from Sidney and the other two backpacking English women, go on a frivolous road trip to see the giant Wolf Creek Crater. Ben is one of those wacky fun- and attention-loving guys, and whether or not he has a girlfriend feels free to flirt with Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and party with her and Kristy (Kestie Morassi). The only Australian among them being from the city, all the characters think of Western Australian men as the eccentric but friendly, like those coming from Australian pop culture exports like “Crocodile Dundee,” “Crocodile Hunter” and anything else with Crocodile in the title and a wacky Autralian guy. Some men in a seedy convenience store begin to put such an image to rest when they ask Ben if they can gang bang the girls. It becomes clear that many locals hate crocodile-loving tourists. Even before that unpleasant confrontation, McLean’s direction makes the environment seem off-putting with menacing shots of signs and some segments shot through the car windows while the characters are outside. Later, a menacing tow wire used to pull their car when it breaks down is just inexplicably creepy.
The payoff lives up to the preparation.The first half of the horrifying sequence is told from one character’s point of view as the situation becomes clearer and more disturbing. John Jarrat, as the film’s monstrous killer, gives an eerie performance that obliviates the old outback stereotype.
Whether or not the actual events of the film are somewhat true or simply draw from some news events regarding Outback murders (and I suspect the latter, since much of the story would have to be made up anyway), McLean has crafted a skillful thriller that will likely invade the minds many mainstream and cult horror fans.