Directed by Greg McLean. Starring John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips. (2005, NR, 99 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 30, 2005
The first horror picture to be released by the Weinstein Co. (although it was purchased by the Dimension Films genre unit of their former company, Miramax), Wolf Creek is an accomplished Aussie version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – right from its “based on actual events” setup to the final shot of its boogeyman slipping into the sunset with his rifle like Leatherface and his chainsaw. Wolf Creek is also a viscerally told slasher film that manages to do an awful lot with very little. With basically four characters and just a few sets, the film succeeds in making you reconsider taking that trip Down Under. It’s grisly and suspenseful, an assault on the imagination as much as, if not more than, what’s actually rendered. While returning from vacation, three college-aged friends detour to visit the scenic but remote Wolf Creek Crater, the site of an epic meteorite landing. When they return to their car after several hours at the crater, they find that their car will not start and their watches do not work. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, the three stay with the car until help seems to arrive in the form of Mick Taylor (Jarratt, who’s also been cast in the upcoming Tarantino/Rodriguez film Grind House, according to IMDb.com). The man appears to be the Australian equivalent of a Southern good ol’ boy. Although he strikes the group as slightly odd, they accept his promise to fix their car back at his place, which he warns is quite a distance away. Once there, they spend a drunken evening around the campfire, but when they wake up, their nightmare begins. Bound and tortured by Taylor in a variety of grotesque and gruesome ways (particularly the women), the kidnappees spend the whole second half of the movie trying to make an escape. Their fright is valid and their terror is capably made palpable by the filmmakers. Adding to the suspense is the anticipation of what will occur, since almost the entire first half of the movie is spent defining the relationships among the three vacationers and promoting hints of romantic intrigue. Ultimately, all this character detail is superfluous: Like the stopped watches at the crater, none of it is really pertinent to the rest of the story. Wolf Creek (much like the new Saw horror franchise) exists for no reason other than to inflict an acute sense of inescapable and inscrutable torture upon the story’s victims – and, by extension, the audience. If that’s what you’re into, Wolf Creek should be a satisfying assault.