While watching Wolf Creek, I couldn't help but think that first time writer-director, Greg McLean, was inspired to make this film after a long-term relationship went extremely sour. I mean, how else can you explain it when the movie does not want to terrify or excite us, but simply wants to make us watch two women get raped and tortured for 45 minutes straight. This isn't a horror movie, it's McLean's personal payback on the opposite sex. I know some people have been offended by this film's graphic and relentless depiction of acts of violence to women. (Some people at my screening even walked out early.) I wasn't so much offended as I was bored. This movie has very little to offer unless you like to watch an hour of grainy travel video followed by 45 minutes straight of carnage.
Set near the tail-end of a lengthy vacation in Australia, British tourists Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) are traveling by car with their local friend Ben (Nathan Phillips) to Wolf Creek - a hiking trail that leads to a famous meteor landing site that's now a massive crater in the middle of the Outback. Aside from a run-in with some trouble makers at a rest stop and some bizarre weather, the trip goes without incident. Until they try to leave Wolf's Creek and find that not only have their watches stopped, but their vehicle is dead. Day turns to night, and just as the three friends are settling in for an evening of camping in the car, a mysterious truck pulls up to them. The driver of the vehicle is an almost too-friendly and jovial Outbacker named Mick (John Jarratt) who offers to tow their car to his place and fix their vehicle for free. As is to be expected, old Mick has less pleasant things in mind for the travelers once they arrive. With Ben strangely missing, Liz and Kristy must fight for survival to escape the murderous madman who has trapped them in the middle of nowhere.
Wolf Creek is an overly simple story, and for this genre, that's just fine. What I have a problem with is Mr. McLean's insistence on lingering too long on the little details before he gets the ball rolling and the plot kicks in. The entire first 50 minutes of the film almost plays like an amateur travelogue. It certainly feels like one, as the scenes are shot in a gritty, almost handheld style. We watch our three heroes basically do nothing but drive, smoke, drink, and have crude conversations with one another. I suppose the director was going for realism here, but I think he puts a little bit too much emphasis upon it. Even when the film's villain shows up, it still takes another 15 or 20 minutes for anything to happen, as the movie has to painstakingly detail the journey to Mick's place. By the time the girls find themselves awakening to a living nightmare, the movie had already lulled me into a state of boredom, and I just didn't care anymore.
This wouldn't be so bad if our three travelers were interesting people, but they just did not appeal to me. It's not as if they were underdeveloped or thin characters, they just were not interesting enough for the film to devote its entire first hour to. This fact also makes it kind of hard to root for them when they're fighting back against Mick, as the film has given us very little reason to care up until this point. The screenplay's obviously not interested in the character of Ben, as he disappears for literally the entire second act, and doesn't show up again till almost the end. After all, that would distract us from the non-stop footage of Mick finding increasingly graphic ways to torture and maim the girls. And who would want that? I will give McLean this, however - at least his heroines are not the brainless bimbos who usually frequent these kind of films. Sure, they don't make the smartest of decisions sometimes, but they also don't do anything unbelievably stupid for the sole purpose that the villain can catch up with them. Although, I do have to question how Mick knew which car out of many one of the girls was going to try to steal, so he could hide in the back.
To be fair, the character of Mick is an intriguing and potentially terrifying villain. He's all the more so in that he comes across as an average and even friendly guy, instead of a deformed ax-wielding maniac. As I mentioned, though, he comes in way too late for us to care. John Jarratt gives a creepy performance in that he's calm and rational at almost all times, even when he's at his most twisted and insane. He's been pulling these murders off for so long that it just is second nature to him by now. He's definitely the sole interesting character in the film, and the fact that the movie waits too long to introduce him is its own grave miscalculation.
Wolf Creek is a movie that just plain doesn't work and goes nowhere for the longest time. So long in fact that the somewhat more interesting and intense second half just can't lift it up. I almost wish this was a short film, it would have been much more effective. At 100 minutes, though, Wolf Creek is too long, too tedious, and just too boring to thrill in the way that it wants to. Horror movies are supposed to excite and thrill us. What the filmmakers here seem to fail to understand that even torture and gore gets monotonous if you force us to watch it over and over again. Hopefully the upcoming Hostel can strike that perfect balance between depravity and strong storytelling.
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