Following the release of the recent sequel, Ghostface Girls, Hayley and Caitlyn debate grisly Australian shocker, Wolf Creek'.
Before getting any further into this article I should first confess that I only saw Wolf Creek last year and since its release in 2005 had heard all these great things about it so much of my disgruntlement with the film likely comes from feeling it was overhyped. Of course, this isn’t a position unique to [Wolf Creek 2](movie:881623) as there are many films whose impact declines over time, but having heard about how brutal and impactful the film was I was left underwhelmed.
This is by no means my only problem with the film, as I find the marketing of the film strange. Its claim to be ‘based on true events’, essentially made up of a few cases of backpackers being murdered is undermined instantly when they decide to turn their killer into a wise-cracking, quote generating mad man, making me think of otherworldly evil like Freddy Krueger et al as opposed to a genuinely dangerous and disturbed man. Given that the film weaves in some reference to actual murders (for example using the name Ivan Milat, a backpacker murderer backwards in a place name), this sits somewhat uncomfortably with me.
This isn’t to say there aren’t some great moments within the film, as a shot in which he has been revealed to have been following them for far longer than expected is suitably chilling. The head-on-a-stick torture method’s inclusion too is one of the more unpleasant moments in film, but the whole thing just left me with a distinct lack of interest in what was going on.
I am not alone in my dislike of the film, given that Roger Ebert walked out on the film, damning it by calling it ‘worse than Showgirls’…..ouch. However, Ebert walked because he found the violence too extreme and perhaps this is my hardened horror fan showing and again the passage of time through viewing increasingly violent films, but if anything I don’t think the violence was anything excessively horrific when compared to others.
If asked to properly narrow in my problem with the film, I’d have to just go with the fact that I was bored during it. The extended opening intended to make me empathise with the characters by virtue of having spent time with them did not work for me, meaning that the long sequence before anything happens just felt flat. I’m by no means against a slow-burn, but I am against it when it feels like it is for nothing else rather than building up screen time for feature length.
All in all, I found that Wolf Creek had a solid concept, but nothing groundbreaking and at times was confused about what it wanted to be. If anything, the star of the film is the location, with Australia providing a vast, treacherous landscape, but the narrative itself...meh.
Wolf Creek (2005), directed by Greg McClean is without a doubt one of my favourite horror movies of the noughties era. The film was my introduction to Ozploitation however it has many conventions and tropes in place that makes it accessible for a wider, universal appeal. When Wolf Creek was released in 2005 it gained commercial success which was well deserved for being a well-thought out, brutal, nail-biting horror film that stepped away from the traditional slasher, offering something far more raw and viscous in terms of its execution.
Wolf Creek tells the story of three backpackers travelling through Australia in 1999. British tourists Liz (Cassandra MaGrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and their Australian friend Ben (Nathan Phillips) stumble across the deadly Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) in the outback after their watches stop and car fails to start. The maniacal killer who is suitably described as a cross between “Crocodile Dundee and Freddy Krueger” terrorizes them and before long it becomes a fight for survival for the trio.
Wolf Creek to an extent is a modern Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); both films are an adrenaline fueled rush that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats through all the torment and chase scenes. It’s atmospheric, harrowing and intense. The film’s beginning builds a gradual sense of dread that also allows an attachment to the characters before their inevitable demises. This works in the film’s favour as it’s very rare in a film of this nature for an audience to care for the victims. Liz, Kristy and Ben are depicted as people encountered in everyday life with the same desires most people their age have such as partying, they’re not annoying stereotypes that an audience wants to see killed off. The fact that they will inevitably end up dead is therefore a disturbing thought.
Australian actor, director and producer John Jarratt plays the psychotic Mick Taylor and is the perfect casting for this role. When he’s introduced he displays a certain charm about him, kindly helping the three friends tow their car and offering to fix it at his place, projecting a false sense of security. The shocking part comes at the realization that Mick is one of the most vicious serial killers ever portrayed on screen. By injecting in that balance of humour into his character makes him all the more sick. The infamous “head on a stick” death scene is the film’s most brutal and well crafted, demonstrating what Mick is really capable of. The other standout scene is where Liz discovers Kristy has been captured, bound and gagged and is being taunted by Mick as she begs for her life. The ending leaves the audience cold without a resolution with the horrifying thought of Mick still out there preying on innocent victims.
Wolf Creek was marketed as being ‘Based on a True story’ which added to the complete horror of what was portrayed on screen. Many believe the film was influenced by the mysterious disappearance of Peter Falconio who’s body has never been recovered. Falconio was traveling Australia with his girlfriend Joanne Lees at the time. Their abductor was eventually identified as Bradley Murdoch. Wolf Creek was originally denied a release in the Northern Territory due to Murdoch’s trial still taking place. The court was concerned that the film would influence the proceedings which have since misled the public into assuming the story witnessed on screen is entirely based in reality. A TV movie titled “Joanne Lees: Murder in the Outback” (2007) is a more accurate re-telling of the case. As recently discussed in our podcast, this raises the question of how much impact a film can have over public opinion especially when the lines are blurred between a real life tragedy and fiction. Despite taking limited influences based in reality most notably the Ivan Milat killings, Wolf Creek pays a homage to the Ozploitation genre as several films before it centred on peril in the outback. Mark Hartley’s documentary, “Not Quite Hollywood: The Untold Story of Ozploitation” (2008) is very thorough on the history of these films, making it clear from where Wolf Creek took its ideas from.
Roger Ebert was very vocal about his hatred of the film upon its release, giving it zero stars. It’s no surprise that his reaction was negative as for several years he voiced his distaste for horror films that saw young women brutalized. However many other critics saw it as a film that revitalized horror as a whole. It may not have changed the face of horror but at the time it delivered a refreshing take on the genre reminding fans of how genuinely terrifying a horror film could be.
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