This year’s A24-distributed Aussie horror smash Talk to Me brought a lot of new eyes to Australian horror; but Australia has been making exceptional horror for decades.
The vast, often rugged landscape lends itself to terrifying stories of isolation and paranoia. Combined with the landscape is a history of crimes so horrific they make international headlines. These two elements often make for incredibly chilling films that are based on true crimes, such as Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown and Nitram, and films that are a combination of known crimes, like David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom or Ben Young’s House of Love.
Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek falls into the latter category; a frightening melange of the serial murders perpetrated in and around the Belanglo State Forest by Ivan Milat and the 2001 abduction of British backpackers Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio by Bradley John Murdoch. In a terrible twist of fate, another crime would occur in 2016 where German backpacker Lena Rabente and her new Brazillian friend Beatriz would be terrorised by 59-year-old Roman Heinze after they sought out someone on Gumtree to take them to the Great Ocean Road. The most chilling aspect of this was that one month before the crime Lena would watch Wolf Creek with a friend, unable to believe that anything like that could ever happen…
The film centres around a young Aussie, Ben (Nathan Phillips) who has befriended British tourists Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi). After purchasing a second-hand car and having one last night of fun in Broome, the trio set out for a trip to Cairns via the Great Northern Highway. Their trip starts out with all of the carefree frivolity you would expect for people in their early 20s, including budding romance in the air for Liz and Ben.
Things start to take on a more sinister and foreboding tone when the trio sets off to Wolf Creek National Park to walk to the meteor crater. The sky begins to darken and rain begins to fall, and when they return from the crater they find their watches have stopped…and the car won’t start. Fearing they may have to stay the night, they hunker down in the car until they see lights in the distance. Ben had been telling them the previous night about a UFO encounter, and he’s convinced that this is what they’re experiencing (especially given the watches stopping). It might have been safer to have been abducted by aliens, because the lights turn out to be the headlights of a car driven by Mick Taylor (John Jarratt). His blokey, friendly manner disarms the trio and as he looks under the hood of their car he notes that not only can he fix their car, he has the very part they need back at his place. The caveat? They would have to go back with him in a direction that is the complete opposite of where they’re heading.
Mick tows the car (with the trio inside) back to where he is staying: an old, abandoned mining camp. Despite their initial trepidation, Liz, Kristy and Ben are reassured as they sit around a campfire talking with the larger-than-life Mick; gratefully accepting what they think is fresh rainwater. The water has been spiked, causing the trio to become unconscious by the fire. And that’s when all hell breaks loose…
I could detail everything that happens subsequent to this, but if you’ve never seen Wolf Creek before and want to be truly unnerved, it’s best to go in as unprepared as possible. It’s a film which feels a lot like Texas Chainsaw Massacre– the psychological terror is deeply unnerving. There’s also a feeling that the first two Mad Max films also provide a bit of Wolf Creek’s DNA during the highway scenes. The character of Mick Taylor, played so chillingly by Jarratt, is larger than life. His casual cruelty and frightening ability to make jokes during moments of barbarity feels startlingly like an Aussie Freddie Krueger.
The film was primarily filmed via handicam, which gives the film more of an intimate and realistic feel, especially during moments of high tension. One disadvantage of this is that at times when there is a great deal of movement happening (e.g. when the car is being towed), it can be slightly nausea-inducing. Nevertheless, this decision to use handicam gives the viewer a front seat to the action and terror in a way that primarily static and stabilised shots might not have provided.
One of the things that elevates Wolf Creek over standard slasher fare is the quality of the cinematography. In addition to the handicam shots, the scenic shots and b-roll are breathtaking. A full, silvery moon in the sky. Droplets of water beading a spider’s web as Kristy runs away. Shots which display the vast, remote beauty of the Australian outback. The beauty is a stark contrast to the depravity happening in and around Mick’s camp.
This is a 2 Blu-ray set which features the theatrical cut and an ‘unrated’ cut which features additional footage that was excised for what appears to be run time and narrative reasons. If you’re expecting the unrated cut to feature the most terrifying gore you’ve seen in your life you may be disappointed, but if you’re a Wolf Creek fan who wants to have the option to watch either cut then this set will make you incredibly happy. Regardless, Wolf Creek is a film that’s worth revisiting in time for Halloween.