MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
John Jarratt as MICK TAYLOR
Cassandra Magrath as LIZ HUNTER
Kestie Morassi as KRISTY EARL
Nathan Phillips as BEN MITCHELL
Studio: Dimension Films
Directed by: Greg McLean
BY KEVIN CARR
The problem with groundbreaking films is when they don’t actually break new ground – or break ground that no one really cares about.
For example, this year’s “The Hills Have Eyes” would be considered groundbreaking if there wasn’t the original “The Hills Have Eyes” or other popular torture thrillers of recent years like “Hostel” and “Saw.” And the 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” would have been groundbreaking if it wasn’t a copy of almost every horror movie ever made. (The original, of course, was groundbreaking, but that was because it broke that new ground in the 70s.)
The movie “Wolf Creek” could be considered groundbreaking in the sense that it broke ground for things someone isn’t really keeping track of, like Australian horror films or scary Crocodile Dundee types. The style of filmmaking isn’t particularly different, but it is effectively done.
Too bad it was released on Christmas Day. If it had squeaked out in the October horror movie season, or the January doldrums of the winter, it might have been a full-fledged hit.
“Wolf Creek,” like any quality horror flick, starts in a rather mundane way. With Australian low-budget shades of “Hostel,” it opens with a group of friends getting ready for a road trip into the Outback. There’s a night of drinking and some promiscuous sex. After waking up the next morning, the trio leaves by car.
We accompany them on a camping trip to the area known as Wolf Creek (hence the name of the film). In fact, things get somewhat dull, which is the point of the whole film. It strings you along enough through the mundane and run-of-the-mill… but you know something nasty is out there waiting.
When the nastiness comes, you don’t recognize it at first. It comes in the form of Mick (John Jarratt), a stereotypical Australian Outback dweller. He seems nice enough, that is until he drugs the bunch and starts to torture and murder them.
Eventually “Wolf Creek” falls into a relatively standard it-could-happen-to-you horror flick, letting the audience bite its nails hoping that the unsuspecting victims can escape. However, it does this exceedingly well – so much so that I was a bit uncomfortable watching it. The film mercifully doesn’t revel in the gore and ultra-violence, which is a criticism I have of films like “Hostel” and “The Hills Have Eyes.”
What it most creepy about the story is that it is inspired by true characters, known collectively as “backpack killers.” There have been several of these serial killers throughout history down under and in Europe. In fact, according to rumor, backpack killer Bradley John Murdoch caused the film’s October release to be bumped because his trial was coming up and the lawyers didn’t want the movie to affect the outcome of the trial. (He was convicted, anyway.)
There’s an aesthetic of ruggedness in the film that is achieved through guerilla-style digital filmmaking techniques. It’s not overly rustic like “The Blair Witch Project,” but it looks great with the high-end DV style. It’s a look that completely lends itself to the genre.
The DVD comes with a commentary by director Greg McLean, executive producer Matt Hearn and actors Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi. There are also a scant sampling of deleted scenes along with the theatrical trailer.
What’s most interesting (and in some ways as much worth watching as the film itself) is the “Making of Wolf Creek” documentary. This featurette is almost feature-length itself, running nearly an hour and going into intense detail of the film. It’s not the greatest behind-the-scenes video I’ve ever seen, but it provides an excellent look at the story behind the movie.
Ultimately, “Wolf Creek” is a solid flick that was robbed a bit in its theatrical release. The biggest complaint that I have (as I imagine many folks might) is that the subject matter is a bit too disturbing.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound. Widescreen (1.78:1), enhanced for 16×9 televisions. French language track. Spanish subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.