Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wolf Creek: "Now That's A Knife!"

With a name like Wolf Creek (2005), you would expect a film about a renegade pack of werewolves infiltrating a lovely campground of unsuspecting mortals.  (Actually, that's not a bad idea...)

But Wolf Creek is an actual  location:  a site in Western Australia in which a huge meteorite has left a whopping crater and people are apparently excited to see it.  In reality, Wolfe Creek has an "E" on the end of wolf, just so you know.

Utterly unsettling is the best way to describe the general sense of unease that embodies this film.
Wolf Creek is supposedly based on a real-life case from back in 2001 of a backpacker killed while traveling in the Australian outback with his girlfriend (who survived). Whether or not it is based in truth matters not - this is still a chilling example of "when vacations attack".

The first part of the film is basically the set-up.  Liz (Hayley O'Brien) and Kristy (Emma Gregory) are two Brits on holiday down under. They meet an Aussie named Ben (Nathan Phillips) whom they decide to continue their travels with and commence partying with him and his friends, until one of them wakes up on the beach and the other in bed with Ben. This is all pretty typical so far, eh?

The trio nonetheless pack into a rented car and traverse through the Australian outback, randomly stopping to camp here and there, with the ultimate goal of reaching the illustrious Wolf Creek - where they will delight their friends with stories of just how effing big this crater is!  Meh. Hey, we've got things like The World's Largest Ball of Twine here in America. Just try and top that, I dare 'ya.

When they finally reach said destination, the three chums are practically giddy with joy, at least until they find out that not only have their watches mysteriously stopped (?) but their car doesn't want to start. But of course.  Just when they think they are going to have to spend a chilly night in the desert, someone happens to come along. Again, of course.

Enter one Mick Taylor (John Jarratt). Unfortunately a totally stereotypical creepy Outback guy. He's sporting the accent as well as the essential hat - and though he doesn't break out the Crocodile Dundee knife (just yet...), there is a shameless reference to it when Mick courteously takes them back to his place when he can't fix their car where it sits.

Though it should have been a huge wake-up call when they find out Mick's property used to be an abandoned mining site and is well-removed from all polite society, they chat up a storm with the eccentric Aussie whilst he "fixes" their car. It's blatantly obvious from the start that Mick is downright creepy, at least I thought so.  Weird and somewhat suggestive looks are exchanged and I couldn't help but to feel pretty unnerved.  Too bad our little group of idiots didn't feel the same.  As they are sitting around a campfire chatting about their respective lives and such, they are given fresh water - which ends up not being such a great relief.  You know what they say about Mexico?  Well, it must hold true here as well.  "Don't drink the water!"  Because........

Next we see Liz, waking up in the morning to find herself hog-tied and in a real pickle. Able to somehow easily free herself (just what kind of kidnapper is this guy anyway?), she finds she cannot locate Ben, but hears Kristy screaming. In a bout of characteristic stupidity, she hunts around until she discovers Kristy in a garage, tied to a post while Mick tortures her.

Liz tries to play the hero, finding a gun and barging into the garage with ill intent. She does manage to shoot Mick, but it turns out to only be a slight graze, allowing him to soon catch up with the girls as they try to make their escape in his truck. The savvy girls set up a scene in which the truck supposedly goes over a cliff, killing them.  But our pal Mick wasn't born yesterday.   He lays in wait, and when one of the girls goes back to his outpost, he soon has her in his clutches - and the horrifying 'head on a stick' line is born.  The most ghastly moments in the film are upon us, and I was certainly clenching my fists the first time I saw it.
Of course it's all downhill from here, with Mick in hunt-to-kill mode to track down the other two victims.  As of this point in the film, we have no idea where Ben even is - they've never showed him since the night before.
That can't be good, right?

One of the best things about Wolf Creek is the tension. That feeling that there's really no place to hide because the killer is not only aware of your every move, but it's his turf. Not a happy predicament in any case.
While the film does take it's time getting started - with a wee bit too much time trying to develop character nuances - once it gets rolling it is pretty relentless in its terror.
There are a few moments here that you entertain the possibility that one of the trio just might live to see another day, and it's not cool for me to spoil it, so I won't say.

I read somewhere that John Jarratt actually spent several weeks one in the outback preparing for this role, and left no stone unturned making his performance as frightening as it most definitely was.

Wolf Creek is not without its petty torments, though.  Things that make you go HUH? 
Such as, it is never explained why the trio's watches stopped running.  Was it some weird X-Files-esque sci-fi heebie-jeebies?  The meteorite exposure that seeped into the ground and sends out radioactive waves of who-knows-what to stop all space and time?  Or did Wal-Mart simply have a sale on really shitty timepieces?

Secondly, would two girls really just pick up a guy and start traveling with him in a foreign country?  Really?  Okay, by today's standards of shallowness and absurdity, they probably would.  Gah!

Then there's the whole 'car won't start' thing.  Yeah, I realize something had to be done to get them stranded in the remote wilderness and all...but man, that plot device is way old.

Likewise, there is something I like to call the 'moment of truth', which is the time in the film when a key character stumbles upon a cache of damning evidence, a wall of crime photos the killer has been collecting, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings which show he's been doing it for years and years, a hidden drawer of personal effects from the dozens of former victims of said killer. This film is no different, but the effect is still the same. You know he's bad, but now you know he's Ted Bundy bad. 
But wouldn't it be a gas if someone opened a drawer and found an industrial size vibrator?  A book on discovering your inner gay man?  A stuffed pink pig?  Or something equally as hilarious?  Alas though, they are doomed to discover fifteen fake passports, proving that the nutjob has been roaming all over Europe slaughtering the Justin Beiber generation. (Wait, is that such a bad thing?)

It's been said that some people were upset by the "based on a true story" angle.  For me, it made no difference one way or another whether or not someone actually went through these events.  If they indeed did, then they have my greatest sympathy for the horror they ensued.  But to me, a horror film is a horror film is a horror film.  However they get the ideas is irrelevant to me.  Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, but I can't really say I disliked the film simply because they "got some of the facts wrong!!".  Um, yeah - who cares?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for instance, is based upon factual events.  Yeah, sure.  Whatever.  That film used a few moments in serial killer Ed Gein's life to base an entire movie upon, changing it up as they saw fit and completely altering the actual event.  Am I bitter?  Hell no.  I love the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  But Ed Gein did not use a chainsaw, did not kill a bunch of teenagers, did not have a goofy inbred family helping him out, and didn't even live in freaking Texas!  So much for the truth of the matter.

Wolf Creek is inspired by the murder of Peter Falconio, a man who disappeared while backpacking with his girlfriend in the Australian outback back in 2001.  I don't see an issue with basing parts of a film on things that have happened in real-life.  It is not a bio-pic, which if it were I can understand if people got upset if they got the facts wrong.  But things are ripped from the headlines all the time.  TV shows like Law & Order and Criminal Minds do this kind of thing EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.
Get over it.
That being said, I think Wolf Creek took a creepy idea and turned it into a fairly disconcerting horror film.

It's a terrifying premise, the idea of being lost or helpless in a foreign country - and it's been done dozens of times before this, in films like Hostel, And Soon the Darkness, Turistas, Buried, Shrooms, A Perfect Getaway, The Grudge, etc.  The thought that we are simply fucked - with no possible happy outcome - is enough to strike fear in the hearts of most horror fans, this one included.  So watching Wolf Creek and settling into its bleak atmosphere and obvious vulnerability is a rather good time.  As long as we are in the safety of our own homes and not wandering the vast, intimidating desert regions of down under.

Of note:  Rumor has it that a sequel is now in the works, again starring Jarratt as Mick.  Writer/Producer/Director Greg McLean spared us no mercy with the first film, and it stands to reason that he won't be a slacker in part two. Of note, his second feature was the awesome giant croc flick, Rogue - also very much worth a look, if for nothing but the performances of Rhada Mitchell, Sam Worthington, and Mick (Jarrett) himself.


Emily said...

I wonder if the stopped watch bit was a slight homage to Picnic At Hanging Rock, which Jarrett also stars in? Then again, I just love Picnic at Hanging Rock and am therefore always looking for homages...

Also, as far as the 'based on a true story' thing, I think it was particularly heavy for Australians because the events were so recent. If memory serves, the film couldn't be shown there because the man it was somewhat based on was currently on trial.

Christine Hadden said...

Ooo, Picnic at Hanging Rock - I love that one too, and it's been awhile for me...and you could be right about the watches.

It would be tough to take if you'd lived through the trial - esp. if it was still going on, yikes.

Rabid Fox said...

I haven't seen this film since it came out, but certain scenes still resonate with me--like the one where Jarrett severs that gal's spine with a knife. Brutal. Nice review.

B.R. said...

Christine, have you seen any H.P. Lovecraft fan films? They're supposed to be good, and Guillermo Del Toro is releasing an adaptation of "At The Mountains of Madness" in 2013(I think).

Christine Hadden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine Hadden said...

Yeah, I've seen many a Lovecraft inspired film, including Dagon, The Dunwich Horror, From Beyond, Necronomicon, The Resurrected, and the Re-Animator flicks...
But I thought the 'Madness' film was shelved indefinitely...

B.R. said...

It was originally meant for a 2011 release, but got set back for some reason. Del Toro may be a genius, but he's really starting to test my patience...

Paul said...

Great review, I was driving through the bush in Western Australia yesterday and it reminded me of this film! I was wondering whether the 'car won't start' part was because it had been tampered with while the 3 of them were in the creek? Needless to say I didn't leave my car unattended for too long!!