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Thread: Wolf Creek Full review with pictures *new on dvd*

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    Default Wolf Creek Full review with pictures *new on dvd*



    "Wolf Creek is based on true events set in the desolate Australian outback," or so promises the opening credit. By the end, it is obvious that this grisly and gruesome horror has as much connection to the notorious murders that inspired it as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" has to the story of the real life Ed Gein. What it lacks is the startling shock of that inspiration.

    WOLF CREEK

    DIRECTOR: Greg McLean

    CAST: John Jarratt,

    Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips

    RUNNING TIME:


    99 minutes

    RATING: R for strong gruesome violence,

    and for language

    WHERE: Opens Sunday at Alderwood 7, Cinema 17, Kent Station 14, Longston Place 14, Meridian 16, Redmond Town Center, Renton Village,

    Woodinville 12

    GRADE: C

    LINKS/TRAILERS
    · Official site

    PHOTO GALLERY

    *View all photos

    It starts out in lazy road movie mode in the company of three pleasant twentysomething vacationers blitzing across the outback. There are some unsettling detours into the company of crude and creepy locals and ominous chords of impending trouble, but it hardly prepares the audience for when the world as we know it drops from under our easy-going trio.

    John Jarratt is perfectly creepy as the outback loner gone psychotic survivalist who gets his kicks from the systematic degradation and torture of hapless victims. And make no mistake, the ordeal is excruciating -- for the audience and for the victims -- as they are trussed, tortured and plunged into an exercise in sadism.

    Greg McLean directs their torments and escape attempts with a bone-crunching, bullet-splattering, flesh-flaying naturalism that is almost admirable in its simple effectiveness. Almost. His mastery is impressive, but to what end? There's nothing entertaining about it.



    "Wolf Creek" aspires to become the Aussie answer to the gritty style of '70s American horror cinema that has suddenly come back in vogue. This may be the most genuine expression of that once shocking trend, but after 30 years the shock is gone. What's left is a grueling exercise in unrelenting brutality with a subtext no deeper than an instinctual fear of the back-country bogeyman.

    Three twenty-somethings, Brits Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and Aussie Ben (Nathan Phillips) road trip through the Australian outback. When their car stalls at the rim of a giant crater, a bushman (John Jarratt) "rescues" them, brings them back to his remote digs and proceeds to torture and/or murder them. Oddly, director Greg McLean keeps dropping little surprise mousetraps throughout, taking the plot in unpredictable directions, but the brain-dead characters continuously fail to use their heads, wandering willy-nilly through the crafty plot, as if they'd never seen Scream or any other movies about serial killers. Most of this "true" account comes from the testimony of one survivor, who -- according to the film -- wasn't even around to see much of it.

    Whatever fond memories the "Crocodile Dundee" movies, "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and even "Kangaroo Jack" gave you about the Land Down Under will be challenged by "Wolf Creek, " writer-director Greg McLean's visually arresting, unrelentingly creepy big-screen debut opening in theaters today.

    Kristy (Kestie Morassi), one of three road-trippers in remote Australia, finds herself in danger when she accepts help from a friendly local in "Wolf Creek."

    Inspired by the "Back Packer Murders," a string of killings committed in Australia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, "Wolf Creek" starts out as an amiable travelogue and segues into a thriller that is genuinely frightening, despite McLean's use of some "look-what-I-learned-in-film-school" tricks.

    After spending two weeks in Australia "that (felt) more like two years," a couple of college-aged women from England, Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and Liz (Cassandra Magrath), pair up with Ben (Nathan Phillips), a guy from Sydney, and hit the open road for one last adventure before heading to the States. One stop on their itinerary: Wolf Creek, a huge crater in the Outback.

    They try to leave the site before nightfall but are foiled when they experience car trouble. They think they've caught a break when a tow-truck driver named Mick (John Jarratt) shows up and offers to take their car to his shop deep in the middle of nowhere.

    Faster than you can say, "G'day, mate!" Ben, Kristy and Liz are fighting for their lives.

    Shot on a shoestring budget on high-definition video, "Wolf Creek" makes the most of its limitations, establishing just how claustrophobic the darkness that envelops the Outback after dusk can be.

    "Wolf Creek" was made with the intention to scare moviegoers silly, and it succeeds.

    Wolf Creek is a film of the horror/slasher variety, a genre for which we have no affection or respect. That said, the film takes full visual advantage of the physical beauty of its setting in the Australian outback. The writer/director, Greg McLean, is trained as a painter, and it shows. He is very good at the creation of tension and dread, too.

    And he has written dialogue that is not completely stupid.

    Those are the positive aspects.

    Wolf Creek is sort-of based on several actual crime events in Australia, including the Hume Highway backpack murders and the more recent Falconio case. (The film could not be released in the Northern Territory until after the recent trial of Peter Falconio’s murderer, Bradley John Murdoch, on the grounds it could affect Murdoch’s chances of getting a fair trial. Murdoch was convicted.)

    In Wolf Creek, three backpackers — two British women and an Australian man — meet and decide to travel together to see the extraordinary meteor crater at Wolf Creek, which is handily located smack dab in the middle of nowhere in the Aussie outback.

    It takes almost an hour to get these kids on the slab: There are brief flirtations to document, landscape and sunsets, twinkly stars, raindrops, UFO stories, campfires, spooky atmosphere bits and a menacing run-in with some toothless locals. So far, so good.


    Everything creepy is a product of the imagination.

    Once we all get to Wolf Creek, however, the plot thickens, and mostly through the simple addition of blood. The car dies, a friendly local (John Jarratt) shows up to help and our three backpackers (Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi) wind up in a pickle — we’re talking chains, knives, guns, nails, missing bady parts and like that. Gross.

    About “18A” worth of gross. You may need to squirm and recoil a fair bit to get through the film, which involves graphic, sickening violence. The camera never looks away.

    The director has said that he had a countercultural intention of sorts with this movie, and that intention was (more or less) to show that good doesn’t always triumph over evil. That is an important lesson generally learned in the process of growing up; one can only wonder if such understanding is fostered via the sight of dog-eaten dead bodies.

    Sorry — half-bodies.

    BOTTOM LINE

    It’s possible to appreciate Greg McLean’s filmmaking talent and still hate the depiction of human cruelty, violence and madness to be found herein. Er, isn’t it?

    Leave it to the Australians to produce the best of the recent homages to 1970s American horror films. Writer-director Greg McLean surpasses his peers with Wolf Creek, an unsettling minimalist film in the vein of early Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, right down to its dubious claims of being based on a true story. Eschewing many tired conventions of recent Hollywood horror movies, McLean achieves his scares by actually depicting scary events, rather than just turning up the music or having people jump out from behind closed doors.

    He doesn't dance around the gore, either, earning his R rating without resorting to pointless nudity or even much harsh language. Wolf Creek is a straightforward tale with familiar elements, following a group of three friends (Phillips, Morassi, Magrath) on a road trip across the Australian desert. They stop at Wolf Creek, a landmark famous for its huge meteorite crater, and this being a horror movie, their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Soon a kindly stranger (Jarratt) arrives to help them out. This being a horror movie, what he really wants to do is torture and kill them.

    The plot isn't exactly original, but the forbidding, almost alien locale (an actual giant crater) gives it a new twist, and McLean's execution is impeccable. His characters don't engage in annoying pop-culture banter or take their clothes off at the drop of a hat, and they aren't played by incompetent TV actors. They feel like real young people with real emotions, and their reactions to the extreme situations they find themselves in come off as genuine and not dictated by the horror-movie playbook.



    It takes a little time for the story to rev up, but McLean uses that time to build a real sense of menace and foreboding, with the harsh landscape looming as a silent harbinger of bad things to come. He also introduces one of the most jovial serial killers in recent memory, another character who's not bogged down in horror clichés, thankfully free of the excessive quirks that most villains are saddled with these days.

    Unlike so many of its slick counterparts, Wolf Creek is genuinely unnerving and sometimes upsetting; any film that can turn a Crocodile Dundee reference into a bone-chilling moment qualifies as a success. Wolf Creek may be simple, but sometimes simple is what works best.

    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.

    It's the end of a vacation on the shores of Western Australia. Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips) has met two lovely English girls, Liz (Cassandra Magrath, "Hotel de Love") and Kristy (Kestie Morassi, "Darkness Falls"), interested in touring the Outback with him on the long drive back east. But one stop proves a horrible fate for all three when they meet a stranger at "Wolf Creek."

    Writer/director Greg McLean's feature debut showcases a strong talent for filmmaking, if not originality. While "Wolf Creek" is loosely based on Australia's "Backpacker Murders," its debt to the hugely influential "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is obvious. Still, this is a gritty flick that must be giving Australia's Outback tourism industry a bad case of heartburn.

    To his credit, McLean takes the time to let us get to know his characters. Ben's a charmer impatient to get on the road with his $1500 used car and wrestling with his attraction to Liz (he's got a girlfriend back home). Kristy's happy to gently facilitate matchmaking. The trio are easy traveling companions, enjoying laughs on their limited budgets. The first foreshadowings of a dreadful fate are twofold. Ben delights in regaling the girls with stories about cars losing power in the middle of nowhere when UFOs are sighted. When they stop for gas at Emu Creek, the locals make creepy sexual threats toward the girls and Ben chooses flight as defense.

    Things look up again when they arrive at their most anticipated destination, Wolf Creek, a desolate place where a meteor once hit the earth and left an awe-inspiring crater. When they get ready to leave, though, their car is dead (as are their watches). A stranger appears out of nowhere. Mick Taylor (John Jarratt, "Picnic at Hanging Rock," "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith") is their very own Crocodile Dundee, an Outback hunter who diagnoses their trouble and offers to tow them back to his camp - in the opposite direction from the nearest town.

    And so, like "Texas Chainsaw," we have a group of young people traveling to a destination that will prove evil. Their vehicle is shown low in the frame of a vast horizon which shimmers with heat. There's the creepy stop at a gas station where they unknowingly cross paths with their destiny and a colorful local who rejects the modern way of dispatching animals for the good old, more savage days. There's even the graveyard of cars and belongings of former victims and a solar eclipse. McLean does achieve a very original moment of horror with what will be the film's most remembered scene, the 'head on a stick,' a bit of Vietnam era torture that would make a mere noggin on a pike seem like a relief.

    McLean's direction is solid, but his plotting often doesn't hold water. Too many times he falls back on the groan-inducing cliches of having victims overwhelm their tormentor then fail to finish the job, or warping time and space to his bogieman's advantage. These problems are particularly troublesome as they are so unnecessary and McLean really does know how to instill despair with a cyclical offering of hope snatched away. He also gets better than average performances from his actors for this genre. Cassandra Magrath stands out among the victims as a gutsy heroine. Jarratt will long be remembered as one of cinema's most terrifying monsters, a humorous character who gradually leaks his disturbing agenda. The film short shrifts Phillips's character by shifting focus away from him for long periods, then featuring him in an intriguing yet overly abrupt finale.

    The HDTV shot film makes the heat and dust palpable and special effects are limited but effective ('She was good for months... until she lost her head'). Composer François Tétaz goes for something aurally different by using classical strings, but while it doesn't distract, it doesn't really work either.

    "Wolf Creek" is not ground-breaking horror, by any means, but it heralds the arrival of a talented new filmmaker who knows how to make the most of location. Good Samaritans may never get to ply their trade again.

    B-

    Hey, here's an idea for the new year. What if a bunch of us get together somewhere and burn all copies of movies like "Wolf Creek?"
    That would mean gathering up copies of "High Tension," "The Devil's Rejects" and all the other recent so-called horror films that are thinly disguised snuff pictures that border on porn.

    Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a horror movie aficionado. But this stuff crosses the border of R-rated horror to what should be NC-17-rated smut. And it is beyond my belief why this latest piece of trash opened on Christmas Day.

    But I digress. Let me stop ranting long enough to tell you what I hated about this movie. OK, everything. Still, you might want to know a little bit about the story, such as it is.

    Stars Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Marassi play friends who are hiking in a deserted area in Australia.

    The first part is just plain boring, because it certainly takes a long time for any action to evolve.

    The friends walk around and then go back to their car to discover that their watches have stopped and the car won't start. At this point, I wondered if they have cell phones in Australia, but then I decided I was asking too many questions so I began to wonder if things would go from boring to worse.

    They do. This guy (John Jarratt) stops by to help the trio with their car. The four of them end up camping together. The friendly stranger begins telling gruesome tales about animals (and yes, I admit it, the film lost me right there) and then everyone goes off to sleep.

    But then one of the women awakes to find that she has been bound and dragged into some sort of shed while her woman friend is being tortured physically and verbally by the knife-wielding stranger.

    I wondered idly exactly what means the stranger used to capture the sleeping young people, but then I thought to myself "No, Linda, here you go asking too many questions again." There follows a sequence so vile, so graphic, that I began asking even more questions: "Who thought this up?" for example.

    I was so repulsed by the end of the movie that I wanted to ask the other members of the audience just what in thunder they were doing there on Christmas Day.

    I know what I was doing there. Seeing this junk so that you don't have to.

    Stars: John Jarratt, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Marassi.

    Screenwriter and director: Greg McLean.

    Running time: Ninety-five minutes.

    Rated: R for explicit violence, gore and foul language.

    When I say that I enjoy a nihilistic film on occasion, I don't mean movies that aren't about anything. There are films that adhere to the philosophy that life is meaningless, that there's not much hope, that we might be in Hell or, better, a godless maelstrom of happenstance and entropy. And then there are ostensibly nihilistic films like Wolf Creek and Hostel that are more accurately examples of nihilism. Both inspired by real-life events*, they seem to use their basis in fact as protection against not actually telling a story with gravity or purpose. They're not governed by a prevailing philosophy or buoyed by any artistry--they have nothing beneath their grimy veneers to reward a careful deconstruction (though we'll try). Worse, they know only enough about their genres to (further) discredit them in the popular conversation. I look at these films as though I were observing an alien artifact, an insect with solid black eyes. If there's intelligence to them, it's not a kind I understand.

    There's no hint of existential conundrum in these pictures--and although my saying that may cause you to roll your eyes, consider that the best grindhouse films (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Black Christmas, Deliverance, The Evil Dead, and so on) have something going on under the skin whether you care to engage it or not. What Wolf Creek and Hostel have is one already-notorious scene apiece and a lot of nothing going on in their ugly, empty little heads. They're cinema as punishment, providing no vicarious thrill; like the televised geekshow "Fear Factor", they just ask the question of how much can you take before you turn away. You watch them, you feel sorry for and superior to the filmmakers and the kids laughing for the benefit of their friends, and then you tell everyone you can that there's a difference between good, terrifying, nihilistic horror flicks and stupid exercises in braggadocio such as Wolf Creek and Hostel.

    Besides their simultaneous release in U.S. theatres, the two films have in common a resentment of tourism, a victim waking up bound and gagged after being drugged, and gags involving severed fingers. Wolf Creek is partially set at the semi-titular park (as in Australia's "Wolfe Creek Crater National Park"--the spelling change meant to facilitate a "big bad wolf" read, maybe, or to soothe an international audience that's also supposedly queasier with words like "philosopher" replacing "sorcerer"), the world's second-largest meteorite crater and a place of such awesome natural foreboding that I wondered during the picture's leisurely first hour whether debut hyphenate Greg McLean had modeled his picture on Peter Weir's Outback creeper Picnic at Hanging Rock. Such intimations to greatness are hamstrung, though, first with a few incomprehensible party scenes that establish the bizarre love triangle between Aussie Ben (Nathan Phillips) and British birds Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and later with the actual charnel house of the film, wherein Wolf Creek reveals itself as having no new ideas and runs out of old ideas fast.

    Somehow this neo Jack, Janet, and Cindy agree to go for a day-hike to the crater. They talk about meteorites and alien abductions, and then when their car battery is mysteriously as dead as their watches (thank goodness for those non-electrical Aussie flashlights, eh mate?), who should swoop in as their salvation but good ol' boy Mick (John Jarratt, in a performance that elevates the film) by offering to tow them to his workshop for a little tune-up. Savvy genre blokes will prick up their ears not only when Ben's sexuality is challenged by a bunch of inbred locals at the Last Gas Station (and again by Mick, proclaiming Ben's hometown of Sydney "the poofter capital of Australia"), but also after Ben does what no one--especially not a fellow POME--should ever do and compares Mick to Crocodile Dundee, prompting Mick to lament the proliferation of feral tourism. This is to no good end, however, as Wolf Creek isn't terribly interested in either the oppressive indifference of the Natural or the offense that the city mice commits against the country mouse, or even the sexual politics of a male challenged and women threatened. It's not something as noble as a film that defies genre convention so much as it's a frantic pastiche that hopes there's a spark of life left in one of the sewn-on transplants. I'd been looking forward to Wolf Creek from the moment it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to a few quiet raves; what I should have considered is that Saw bowed to similar festival buzz last year.

    Still, Wolf Creek is a model of restraint compared to Eli Roth's Hostel. I had a fair share of affection for Roth's writing-directing debut Cabin Fever, seeing in it a refreshing honesty about his love for traditional spam-in-a-cabin flicks that I thought carried it over some of the (perhaps) intentionally shoddy filmmaking and a layer of Jackass crudeness and hostility. Hostel's a middle-finger flipped at every single thing that makes films like this worthy of deeper examination and, more importantly, the carriers of genuine unrest and discomfort. It lurches along with a wilful rejection of intelligence and sensitivity for fear of emasculation--"pussy" and "faggot" the two words its heroes use most often in Hostel's and thus, as Dr. Phil would tell you, the two things author Roth probably most fears that he is. The result of that puerility in its creation (maybe creator) is a film that bends over backwards to punish women and homosexuals; Hostel is unrepentantly, unselfconsciously leering, and so ugly on the topic of gay men that it reserves its nastiest, ugliest punishments for quiet schlep Josh (Derek Richardson) and the older Dutch man (Jan Vlasák) in whom he may be interested. Tellingly, the one vivisects the other before encountering his personal Waterloo in a train station's public water closet, his pants around his ankles and his head in a toilet full of his own waste. It's where queers go to die in movies made by homophobes. For more eloquent commentary than I'm capable of providing of the damage done by this kind of image, look to a bathroom murder scene in Hellbent.

    It begins as the Last American Virgin remake Roth's been threatening us with as a trio of college-age hedonists, on a budget and armed with a europass, frequent the ganja bars of Amsterdam just prior to going window shopping in the Red Light District. The usual suspects: the wild party guy is Icelander Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson); the devil-may-care daredevil is Yankee Paxton (Jay Hernandez); and the delicate, budding writer recovering from a break-up is fellow Yankee Josh (Derek Richardson). After getting locked out of their hostel, they find themselves in the apartment of a seamy Russian who advises them to take a train to Bratislava, where the women are beautiful and desperate. Sure enough, once they're in a gothically-appointed hostel, a pair of Russian beauties (and why are Russians staying at a Russian hostel? Who cares, right?), Natalya and Svetlana (Barbara Nedeljakova and Jana Kaderabkova), accidentally (oops!) flash their tits, invite the boys to a spa, and then flash their tits on purpose. Yet apparently these girls have more on their minds than fucking (but fuck they do, don't get me wrong)--seems they're paid a lot of money to deliver young men to a shadowy network of flesh peddlers who sell rich international businessmen the opportunity to torture someone to death.

    Japanese girl Kana (Jennifer Lim) has an eyeball plucked out in slow-motion, quails at her appearance, and kills herself by jumping in front of a train. Yeah, she's vain, but is there anything to the notion that the loss of her eye is speaking to an objectification subtext? I doubt it. Hostel revels in its venality and arrogance, rubbing it all over itself like the gouts of blood it uses to soak every non-victim in the picture. It's posed itself as a piece owing a debt to the Japanese shock cinema of Takashi Miike (himself a bit player in the film) when it really owes more to the gore/schlock cinema of Herschel Gordon Lewis. For whatever you can say about Miike's pictures, not a one of them (and he's been known to churn out up to five a year) would you describe as empty, sadistic capering. Hostel can't be a commentary on sexual tourism because it is sexual tourism; it can't be a commentary on exploitation of women and virulent gay-bashing because it's those things, too; and, ultimately, it's neither as scary nor as funny as it wants to be, because it's just a cheap bit of garbage and everyone, even or especially the people who'll like it best, knows it.

    But there's a catch--and the catch is the torture scene of anti-hero Paxton, whose humiliation Roth shows in bald, intimate detail. There's a suggestion in this lead-up that Paxton is "unmanned"--turned into the "pussy" he cavalierly calls his dead friends in bonhomie and goading. And so, in the calculus of his lizard brain, he's been degraded in a more significant way than dissection. He delays his own demise (and facilitates his escape) by showing off his bilingual ability, confusing his German tormentor with pleas for his life in his native tongue and, in the process, identifying a theme of ugly-Americanism that works as a weak undercurrent in the film. If Hostel fails to add much to the conversation about voyeurism and sexual identity in the slasher genre, at least it manages in spite of itself to suggest in a meta way how Americans piss off the rest of the world not just with their politics and their arrogant ignorance (note that in Syriana, another film with a disgusting torture sequence, one of the emir's men says of the Chinese that at least they learn Arabic to deal with them in business), but with their affluence and sense of entitlement, too. It doesn't make Hostel a good film--but it does make it worth a conversation.

    When I say that I enjoy a nihilistic film on occasion, I don't mean movies that aren't about anything. There are films that adhere to the philosophy that life is meaningless, that there's not much hope, that we might be in Hell or, better, a godless maelstrom of happenstance and entropy. And then there are ostensibly nihilistic films like Wolf Creek and Hostel that are more accurately examples of nihilism. Both inspired by real-life events*, they seem to use their basis in fact as protection against not actually telling a story with gravity or purpose. They're not governed by a prevailing philosophy or buoyed by any artistry--they have nothing beneath their grimy veneers to reward a careful deconstruction (though we'll try). Worse, they know only enough about their genres to (further) discredit them in the popular conversation. I look at these films as though I were observing an alien artifact, an insect with solid black eyes. If there's intelligence to them, it's not a kind I understand.

    There's no hint of existential conundrum in these pictures--and although my saying that may cause you to roll your eyes, consider that the best grindhouse films (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Black Christmas, Deliverance, The Evil Dead, and so on) have something going on under the skin whether you care to engage it or not. What Wolf Creek and Hostel have is one already-notorious scene apiece and a lot of nothing going on in their ugly, empty little heads. They're cinema as punishment, providing no vicarious thrill; like the televised geekshow "Fear Factor", they just ask the question of how much can you take before you turn away. You watch them, you feel sorry for and superior to the filmmakers and the kids laughing for the benefit of their friends, and then you tell everyone you can that there's a difference between good, terrifying, nihilistic horror flicks and stupid exercises in braggadocio such as Wolf Creek and Hostel.

    Besides their simultaneous release in U.S. theatres, the two films have in common a resentment of tourism, a victim waking up bound and gagged after being drugged, and gags involving severed fingers. Wolf Creek is partially set at the semi-titular park (as in Australia's "Wolfe Creek Crater National Park"--the spelling change meant to facilitate a "big bad wolf" read, maybe, or to soothe an international audience that's also supposedly queasier with words like "philosopher" replacing "sorcerer"), the world's second-largest meteorite crater and a place of such awesome natural foreboding that I wondered during the picture's leisurely first hour whether debut hyphenate Greg McLean had modeled his picture on Peter Weir's Outback creeper Picnic at Hanging Rock. Such intimations to greatness are hamstrung, though, first with a few incomprehensible party scenes that establish the bizarre love triangle between Aussie Ben (Nathan Phillips) and British birds Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and later with the actual charnel house of the film, wherein Wolf Creek reveals itself as having no new ideas and runs out of old ideas fast.

    Somehow this neo Jack, Janet, and Cindy agree to go for a day-hike to the crater. They talk about meteorites and alien abductions, and then when their car battery is mysteriously as dead as their watches (thank goodness for those non-electrical Aussie flashlights, eh mate?), who should swoop in as their salvation but good ol' boy Mick (John Jarratt, in a performance that elevates the film) by offering to tow them to his workshop for a little tune-up. Savvy genre blokes will prick up their ears not only when Ben's sexuality is challenged by a bunch of inbred locals at the Last Gas Station (and again by Mick, proclaiming Ben's hometown of Sydney "the poofter capital of Australia"), but also after Ben does what no one--especially not a fellow POME--should ever do and compares Mick to Crocodile Dundee, prompting Mick to lament the proliferation of feral tourism. This is to no good end, however, as Wolf Creek isn't terribly interested in either the oppressive indifference of the Natural or the offense that the city mice commits against the country mouse, or even the sexual politics of a male challenged and women threatened. It's not something as noble as a film that defies genre convention so much as it's a frantic pastiche that hopes there's a spark of life left in one of the sewn-on transplants. I'd been looking forward to Wolf Creek from the moment it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to a few quiet raves; what I should have considered is that Saw bowed to similar festival buzz last year.

    Still, Wolf Creek is a model of restraint compared to Eli Roth's Hostel. I had a fair share of affection for Roth's writing-directing debut Cabin Fever, seeing in it a refreshing honesty about his love for traditional spam-in-a-cabin flicks that I thought carried it over some of the (perhaps) intentionally shoddy filmmaking and a layer of Jackass crudeness and hostility. Hostel's a middle-finger flipped at every single thing that makes films like this worthy of deeper examination and, more importantly, the carriers of genuine unrest and discomfort. It lurches along with a wilful rejection of intelligence and sensitivity for fear of emasculation--"pussy" and "faggot" the two words its heroes use most often in Hostel's and thus, as Dr. Phil would tell you, the two things author Roth probably most fears that he is. The result of that puerility in its creation (maybe creator) is a film that bends over backwards to punish women and homosexuals; Hostel is unrepentantly, unselfconsciously leering, and so ugly on the topic of gay men that it reserves its nastiest, ugliest punishments for quiet schlep Josh (Derek Richardson) and the older Dutch man (Jan Vlasák) in whom he may be interested. Tellingly, the one vivisects the other before encountering his personal Waterloo in a train station's public water closet, his pants around his ankles and his head in a toilet full of his own waste. It's where queers go to die in movies made by homophobes. For more eloquent commentary than I'm capable of providing of the damage done by this kind of image, look to a bathroom murder scene in Hellbent.

    It begins as the Last American Virgin remake Roth's been threatening us with as a trio of college-age hedonists, on a budget and armed with a europass, frequent the ganja bars of Amsterdam just prior to going window shopping in the Red Light District. The usual suspects: the wild party guy is Icelander Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson); the devil-may-care daredevil is Yankee Paxton (Jay Hernandez); and the delicate, budding writer recovering from a break-up is fellow Yankee Josh (Derek Richardson). After getting locked out of their hostel, they find themselves in the apartment of a seamy Russian who advises them to take a train to Bratislava, where the women are beautiful and desperate. Sure enough, once they're in a gothically-appointed hostel, a pair of Russian beauties (and why are Russians staying at a Russian hostel? Who cares, right?), Natalya and Svetlana (Barbara Nedeljakova and Jana Kaderabkova), accidentally (oops!) flash their tits, invite the boys to a spa, and then flash their tits on purpose. Yet apparently these girls have more on their minds than fucking (but fuck they do, don't get me wrong)--seems they're paid a lot of money to deliver young men to a shadowy network of flesh peddlers who sell rich international businessmen the opportunity to torture someone to death.

    Japanese girl Kana (Jennifer Lim) has an eyeball plucked out in slow-motion, quails at her appearance, and kills herself by jumping in front of a train. Yeah, she's vain, but is there anything to the notion that the loss of her eye is speaking to an objectification subtext? I doubt it. Hostel revels in its venality and arrogance, rubbing it all over itself like the gouts of blood it uses to soak every non-victim in the picture. It's posed itself as a piece owing a debt to the Japanese shock cinema of Takashi Miike (himself a bit player in the film) when it really owes more to the gore/schlock cinema of Herschel Gordon Lewis. For whatever you can say about Miike's pictures, not a one of them (and he's been known to churn out up to five a year) would you describe as empty, sadistic capering. Hostel can't be a commentary on sexual tourism because it is sexual tourism; it can't be a commentary on exploitation of women and virulent gay-bashing because it's those things, too; and, ultimately, it's neither as scary nor as funny as it wants to be, because it's just a cheap bit of garbage and everyone, even or especially the people who'll like it best, knows it.

    But there's a catch--and the catch is the torture scene of anti-hero Paxton, whose humiliation Roth shows in bald, intimate detail. There's a suggestion in this lead-up that Paxton is "unmanned"--turned into the "pussy" he cavalierly calls his dead friends in bonhomie and goading. And so, in the calculus of his lizard brain, he's been degraded in a more significant way than dissection. He delays his own demise (and facilitates his escape) by showing off his bilingual ability, confusing his German tormentor with pleas for his life in his native tongue and, in the process, identifying a theme of ugly-Americanism that works as a weak undercurrent in the film. If Hostel fails to add much to the conversation about voyeurism and sexual identity in the slasher genre, at least it manages in spite of itself to suggest in a meta way how Americans piss off the rest of the world not just with their politics and their arrogant ignorance (note that in Syriana, another film with a disgusting torture sequence, one of the emir's men says of the Chinese that at least they learn Arabic to deal with them in business), but with their affluence and sense of entitlement, too. It doesn't make Hostel a good film--but it does make it worth a conversation.



    Nasty as this genre can get (although I haven't seen "Hostel" yet), WOLF CREEK is near state-of-the-art thriller/slasher/horror, both excellent (of its kind) and faltering in its set-up/follow-thru. Supposedly based on a true story, the scenario comes off as credible. Possible spoiler ahead: The movie's biggest problem is that old routine: "Wound the villain, but don't bother to make sure he's dead." How stupid to include this cringe-inducing mistake in a film that's otherwise first-class: shocking, ugly & so well put together. (The use of Australia's outback and seaside, with their gorgeous skies & clear, bright colors, has the movie alternating between tourist-paradise & hell-on-earth.) Anthony Waller's "Mute Witness" still remains one of the best of this kind--and it has a terrific sense of humor, to boot--but "Wolf Creek" is probably a must-see for genre fans who can stomach a story as horrible as it is haunting. It's enough to make you rethink that Australian "Outback" vacation.

    Cast:
    Nathan Phillips as Ben Mitchell
    Kestie Morassi as Kristy Earl
    Cassandra Magrath as Liz Hunter
    John Jarratt as Mick Taylor
    Gordon Poole as Attendant
    Guy Petersen as Swedish Backpacker #1
    Jenny Starwall as Swedish Backpacker #2
    Andy McPhee as Bazza
    Aaron Sterns as Bazza's Mate

    Summary:
    A seriously terrifying thrill-fest with true scares, "Wolf Creek" defies its own horror genre by actually developing the characters. It's a welcome addition to the normally formulaic world of horror.

    Story:
    Three friends take a vacation to visit the meteorite crater at Wolf Creek in the Australian outback, but when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, they accept the help of an eccentric local (John Jarratt) and find themselves caught in a nightmare beyond anything they could imagine.

    Analysis:
    My biggest issue with this year's horror films have been their misogynistic tone, where the women are there just to molest, terrorize and worse. It all harks back to the '70s B-movies that influenced this new generation of directors, but it's been taken to ridiculous extremes in unwatchable films like "High Tension" and "The Devil's Rejects."

    While Greg McLean's debut feature "Wolf Creek" might look like more of the same, it's a beast of a different color for a number of reasons: Firstly, the rural Southern setting that's become the norm for formulaic slasher films has been replaced by the Australian Outback. The story is also based on true events so shocking that the film was banned in one Australian region because a judge thought it might influence his jury. More importantly, McLean knows that horror doesn't work unless you know what makes the characters tick, and more than anything else, that's why "Wolf Creek" is such a radical departure.

    It's hard to discuss "Wolf Creek" without spoiling it, since it's so much better going in knowing nothing. It's not entirely original, and it may have a hard time avoiding comparisons to "The Blair Witch Project" due to the similar premise and its use of the handheld video cameras that have become an obligatory horror movie prop since that indie horror staple.

    For the first half hour, you're allowed to relax and get comfortable with the use of the scenery to create an innocuous travelogue that owes more to "Y Tu Mama Tambien" than "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." McLean does a great job using equal parts natural silence and ambient scoring to set the mood of foreboding, so that when Ben, the sole Australian, and his two British friends Liz and Kirsty, are left stranded when their car breaks down, you can't help but be on edge. The strange lights that appear in the distance from the darkness are an eerie precursor to the arrival of Mick Taylor, a local samaritan who offers to tow them back to his place to fix their car. Little can the trio know what's to come, and it's really why the movie is so terrifying. Like them, you don't know where it's going or what to expect, which makes the brutality of the third act that much more shocking and hard to watch.

    The reason "Wolf Creek" works where other horror flicks fail is that it spends much of the first hour developing the trio of characters and their relationships. It makes you care about the character before putting them in peril, and it's a credit to the three young actors that they act so natural with their interplay while on vacation. They're never nearly as reprehensible as the usual "slasher fodder" because they seem more like real people rather than the typical archetypes one might expect.

    Although the film eventually turns vicious, that's where the fun really begins thanks to the wild performance by John Jarratt as the eccentric local who offers to help the trio. To most, he might seem like the Australian stereotype that's become so prevalent thanks to the likes of Paul Hogan and Steve Irwin, only taken to the extreme. It's obvious that Mick is not a fan of being compared to Crocodile Dundee, which is where we get just a glimpse of the real Mick, but Jarratt has created such a strange and memorable character that Mick Taylor should immediately be placed in the pantheon of classic horror characters with Leatherface and Freddy Krueger.



    The epilogue, which brings the story back to the reality of the true crime story that was its source material, is a bit of a letdown, because after being pummeled with so much action and thrills, we're expecting something more significant. Then again, the ending helps maintain what makes "Wolf Creek" so different from the typical horror clichés we've seen so many times before.

    The Bottom Line:
    Fans of subtler forms of suspense will appreciate the first half of McLean's debut, while those who just like gruesome splatter flicks should enjoy the ending just as much. The real trick is how McLean merges the two types of horror into a cohesive story with real characters, and it's what sets "Wolf Creek" apart from the pack.

    Wolf Creek, Australia's answer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and sadistic horror in general, is so fantastic that you almost don't want to tell people about it. Low expectations, coupled with ignorance of the plot, are absolutely the way to go here -- too much information breeds too much waiting impatiently for something scary to happen. Because the movie, written and directed by first-timer Greg McLean, is a lo-fi masterpiece, an intense ride through your worst nightmares. But it takes a bit of time to develop into such.

    Purporting to be "based on actual events," Wolf Creek begins as two English girls, Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi), are nearing the end of a vacation in Western Australia. They've planned a three-week road trip to Sydney with a new friend, Ben (Nathan Phillips, who is so fetching I felt like I was cheating on my fiancé just by watching this movie). The trip will encompass camping and flirting and a trip to a famous crater. What could possibly go wrong?

    Well, plenty. Without spoiling too much, the trio eventually stumbles across some rural types who frankly make me afraid to ever again visit Outback Steakhouse.

    The key to Wolf Creek, however, is that -- opposed to, say, the Saw franchise -- McLean evinces a sense of tender, human intimacy amid the gore. You actually care about its main characters, even though you know they're lambs inexorably bound for the slaughter.

    Thus, when the movie does go full-throttle to the dark side, you might very well find yourself forgetting to breathe for entire segments. McLean doesn't shy away from ... anything, really, and even when he takes a page (or 50) from Massacre, the movie still feels like something new and exciting. Wolf Creek doesn't just push the envelope, it eviscerates it.

    n this era of horror films soullessly carted out of Hollywood, Wolf Creek immediately stands apart from the pack, beginning with the stunning image of sunset-tinted waves crashing onto the sands of an Australian beachfront. For a split second, this expressionistic shot resembles a volcano blowing its top, and the realization that it's something entirely more mundane exemplifies the unsettling tenor of the film's casual shocks. Like two of the best horror films of the '80s, Robert Harmon's The Hitcher and Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark, Wolf Creek is propelled by a lyrical sense of doom, and the ease with which first-time director Greg McLean creates a compelling sense of place—not to mention characters worth rooting for—is truly something to behold.

    After a lively farewell party, three friends set out to hike the Wolf Creek crater in Western Australia. It's there that the strange beauty of the desolate locale perpetuates stories of alien encounters and helps to uproot a suppressed romance. Kristy (Kestie Morassi) casually informs Ben (Nathan Phillips) that Lizzie (Cassandra Magrath) returns his secret crush; soon the surfer dude is taking the brunette beauty aside in order to pull her in for a kiss—no tongue action or popping breasts, just a simple kiss. When Lizzie pulls back and puts the back of her hand to her mouth in a show of genuine rapture and bashfulness, you realize these could be real people reacting to the stirrings of bourgeoning love. When an alien does arrive, they react sensibly (for sure, these aren't the teens made fun of in Wes Craven's Scream films), which makes what happens to them all the more disturbing.

    McLean methodically evokes a self-contained universe expressive of a profound sense of mystery and isolation. At once mundane and frightening, the moon, the sun, and the crippling heat appear as minions of Wolf Creek's impact crater, which is meant to bring to mind visions of mass destruction and animal extinction. To this landscape of nature in sinister, determinist motion, McLean adds the holographic shapes of light dancing in the night, profoundly conveying a sense that something is out of whack, or, more simply, that his characters are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rescued by a local (John Jarratt) after their car mysteriously stops running, the film's three young leads play nice with their eccentric but seemingly friendly savior, understanding, perhaps unconsciously, that his arrival jives too perfectly with the ominous mood of Wolf Creek and that he may be here to finish off the job the meteor could not when it first crashed in the region long ago.

    Ben, Lizzie, and Kristie do everything right, at least under their especially tenuous circumstances. Bombarded with pleases and thank yous and money for his services, Mick (Jarratt) still drugs, kidnaps, and tortures the trio, and, in effect, McLean affirms that there is no shaking the amoral values of a serial killer who plays by his own rules. But if Wolf Creek's blistering, sunburnt images are any indication, the film's locale seems to represent an otherworldly place untouched by accepted societal mores; it's as if Mick believes he's the only person in this world and as such is entitled to govern it as he sees fit. Unaffected by Hollywoodized visions of serial killers, Mick doesn't take to creating elaborate photo montages or flesh composites of his victims. He simply keeps their memento moris in boxes and their pictures on his wall. This is a no-frills boogeyman, and like Lizzie waking up to discover that she was hog-tied and thrown in a shed sometime during the night, Wolf Creek's horrors are presented with a chilling, offhanded nonchalance.

    Given the slow-crawling pace of its first half and absurdist hell of its second, this grue-marinated film invites comparisons to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The opening and closing title cards are major downers (McLean trots out the "based on a true story" public service announcement as if to bestow the film with the urgency it already has in spades), but Wolf Creek is a beautiful piece of horror that doesn't come with the noxious social and sexual baggage that typically dooms its ilk—like the technically proficient High Tension and Marcus Nispel's version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film's context is existential. Characters charge into the desert, so blinded by the heat and dirt that they come to resemble moving Rorschach ink blots. Like the film's opening shot, these images are expressionistic in nature; they express a gripping vision of characters struggling and resisting to be made out by a terror at once terrestrial and alien.

    "Wolf Creek" is a punishing film to watch. Not because it's inherently unwatchable--quite the contrary, in fact, due to the credible performances and a level of character development not normally associated with horror pics. What makes Greg Mclean's film debut a challenge is the unrelenting realism of its violence, which is certain to render an uncomfortable and visceral effect on viewers.

    Playing off the almost total isolation inherent in a cross-country road trip through Australia, the film follows the joyride of British twentysomethings Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and their friend from Sydney, Ben (Nathan Phillips). The friendship among the trio, as well as a burgeoning romance between Liz and Ben, are presented casually and naturally, making the characters likable, despite the lack of concrete details revealed about their lives.

    The trip takes a turn for the worst after Liz, Kristy and Ben return to their car from a hike at the remote Wolf Creek National Park. They discover that the engine in their wagon--an older, used vehicle bought on the cheap for the trek--won't start. Rather unexpected help comes in the form of a large tow truck driven by Mick (John Jarratt), a native Outbacker who assures the group that he can repair the car and just needs to tow it back to his place for parts. The friends come along relieved, hushing their mild suspicions when their tow seems to last an unendingly long time. Once at Mick's compound, the trio falls asleep by an open fire as he works on their engine.

    The horror portion of the pic begins--and continues almost nonstop to film's end--with the ensuing scene as Liz awakes to find herself bound, gagged and alone in a room. A struggled escape leads her to hear Kristy screaming in agony, where, in an attempt to rescue her friend, Liz witnesses the utter depravity and mercilessness of their captor. Unlike traditional horror films, "Wolf Creek" is not comprised of a series of suspenseful moments that build and resolve as the killer does his deeds. Instead, it's a rather bleak and disturbing window on a steady flow of tortures, with only the occasional--and short-lived--spark of hope allotted to the tormented victims.



    Film scripter-helmer Mclean furnishes an impressive first feature in "Wolf Creek." Skillfully avoiding cliches in a genre particularly vulnerable to them, the filmmaker manages to convey a lot with just a little. Liz stumbling upon a stash of camcorders from apparent victims of Mick, and watching footage as the madman offered help to various individual and families in their disabled cars, is an example of narrative economy at its finest. It's this sort of cinematic touch, littered throughout "Wolf Creek," that makes for interesting, though always difficult, viewing.

    Based on true serial murder cases, this violent horror picture is truly gruesome and repulsive.

    It begins quietly with two British girls, Liz Hunter (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy Earl (Kestie Morassi), on holiday in Australia, preparing to explore the remote meteor sites at Wolf Creek National Park. Their companion Ben (Nathan Phillips), a Sydney native, scares them with campfire stories about eyewitness accounts of flying saucers and unexplained phenomena. But the true terror does not emanate from outer space. Instead, it occurs when their car breaks down and their watches stop working at the same moment. That's when a huge backwoodsman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) appears, offering a tow and help with repairs. Ignoring omens of dread, they wind up as prisoners at his abandoned mining camp. Judging by the collection of corpses on his walls, he's into crucifying unsuspecting tourists - and they're next. Who will succumb? Who will survive? One thing for sure: this cackling, sadistic villain is certainly no Crocodile Dundee.

    While writer/producer/director Greg Mclean refers to two unsolved crimes in the Outback, he seems to channel the bloody, masochistic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" slasher concept, detailing a slow, gradual build-up, engendering mounting tension and suspense, along with a prolonged, punishing, graphic conclusion that makes "Open Water" look tame. His tortuous film-making technique on high-definition video stock is gritty and basic - with credit to photographer Will Gibson. His dialogue is realistic and Francois Tetaz's score is creepy. But Mclean also never fully explains why the trio's watches stopped working. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Wolf Creek" is a gratuitously vicious, ominous 1. Don't say you weren't warned.

    Loosely based on the "backpack murders," a string of real-life serial killings that terrorized the Australian Outback during the late '80s and early '90s, director Greg McLean's feature debut is easily one of the most brutally realistic horror movies since the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974). Set in 1999 and fusing the details of separate incidents that took place along Australia's long and lonely Hume highway into a single, terrifying ordeal, the film follows the fates of two English women and the young Australian man they meet while enjoying two weeks of sun, surf and Smirnoff on Australia's West Coast. Driving back through the deserted stretches of outback emptiness, Liz (Cassandra Magrath), Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and Ben (Nathan Phillips) stop at desolate Wolf Creek National Park for a three-hour hike in the drizzling rain to see the area's main attraction: a gigantic meteor crater. When they return to the battered Ford wagon Ben bought for peanuts in Broome, it won't start; oddly enough, both Kristy's and Ben's watches have stopped at nearly the same time. In what first seems like a extraordinary stroke of good luck, garrulous good ol' boy Mitch Taylor (John Jarratt) happens to be passing by in his truck and stops to offer them a tow back to his place, where he claims to have the spare parts needed to fix their car. Understandably wary, but facing a real possibility of being left to die in the middle of nowhere, they reluctantly accept Mitch's offer and wind up enduring something far worse. Shot in a grimy, blood-spattered style that recalls CHAIN SAW's darkest moments, the entire film exudes a similarly savage sense of menace; here even the ordinarily beautiful Australian desert landscape is filled with jagged, threatening-looking flora and the skulls and spoor of whatever fauna once lived there. Gorehounds eager for a quick thrill may grow impatient with the gradual build-up — very little actually happens for the entire first half of the film — but the even pacing and attention to character detail is what makes that harrowing second half so effective. Having come to know these characters and even like them, you begin to worry about the something bad that will inevitably happen to them. When it does, you can't help but share their terror. Refusing to pull a single punch when it comes to the evil that men do, McLean even concocts a chilling ending in which our poor heroes meet an even crueler fate than their real-life counterparts.

    To call Wolf Creek's U.S. Christmas opening counter-programming surely understates the strategy. This low-budget Australian horror movie is definitively unseasonal, and comes with adoring, if somewhat menacing, blurbs from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to boot. Based on "actual events" (specifically, the "Backpacker Murders," committed between 1989 and 1992), it means to unnerve and upset.

    Opening on a gorgeous 1999 seaside sunrise, Wolf Creek traces the harrowing adventures of three unpretentious college-age students, exploring their own emotional possibilities while driving cross-country. Introduced mid-story, even mid-conversation, they come without background or motivation. Ben (Nathan Phillips) first appears as he purchases a rickety station wagon from a sleazy salesman, who imagines the boy's purposes (or, as you come to find, mis-imagines them): "They get real easy when they travel, they loosen up." Ben smiles as if in concert, drives off in his noisy vehicle, and mutters under his breath that the guy's a "fucking asshole."

    Come to find out that the "they" in the salesman's formulation are the two girls Ben picks up, Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi). Partying on the beach, they wake beside two boys they've just met -- for the record, they've just met Ben as well. On summer vacation, the girls (from England) and Ben (from Sidney) have decided to take off on a three week excursion to Wolf Creek, a meteor crater in the desert plains of north central Australia. During their drive, they learn a few things about each other, smoke cigarettes, and flirt a bit. Ben tells a scary story about UFO sighting (a driver's car loses electricity). At the crater, they marvel at the size and peculiarity of the hole, then Liz and Ben wander off on their own, kiss and giggle, and form what looks to be the film's designated "couple."

    Not so fast. Wolf Creek knows its generic conventions. The travelers make their back to the car, where they discover their watches have stopped and the car is dead. Spooked by the similarity to Ben's story, they sit in the dark and worry about what will happen next out here in the proverbial middle of nowhere. By now, you're anticipating what does happen, triggered by the arrival of the stranger, here named Mick (John Jarratt), literally emerging from the pitch-black night, his truck coughing and clunking. Mick offers a tow to his garage where he says he can fix their engine. Uneasy but chiding themselves for being so, these 20somethings go along, trying not to make fun of their "colorful" host, who describes himself as a former kangaroo hunter ("I was doing people a service really, by shooting them. There's kangaroos all over the place... like tourists") and is not above making fun of the famous Crocodile Dundee line about what constitutes a "real" knife in the outback.

    Apparently a student of classic horror and slasher movies, from Wes Craven and John Carpenter's grisly early work to Kubrick's elegant Shining, writer-director Greg McLean builds a context for unbelievable violence by any number of ostensibly mundane, potentially resonant details, from the sexist "morons" they run into at a bar to Kristy's question about the random creation of the crater: "Wonder why the meteor hit here, in this place, and nowhere else." Ben's response is at once meaningless and a little chilling: "Maybe it was drawn to something in the earth, like when lightning strikes." Perhaps everything is random, perhaps nothing.

    Just so, Mick's assault on the travelers is unfathomable. And once it begins, it continues straight through to film's distressing end, with one horrific act after another. Following an evening round a campfire, Liz wakes to find herself tied, gagged, and bloodied in a shed, having been drugged and dragged from her friends. Her struggle to survive, even to save Kristy, whom she discovers being tortured by Mick in another building, tied to a post as he swaggers toward her with clicking rifle and unzipped pants.

    Liz looks to be the plucky last girl here, game and determined as Kristy is understandably hysterical. When Liz comes on a collection of snapshots and video footage of pervious victims (and Ben's own tape, made during a gas station stop on the road), she realizes what you have no doubt guessed, that she's dealing with a serial killer, with focus and plans for abuse, murder, and exacting pleasure from his demonic dementia (in particular, he plies a torture he's learned from the Vietnam war, called "head on a stick"). As they are most certainly far from "civilization," Liz has no recourse to phones or even passing cars, though she and Kristy will pursue this potential route to rescue, granting the film the expected targeting, driving, running, and screaming. Lots of all that.

    To its credit, Wolf Creek respects its sources, in particular Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With plot predictable by definition, it denies context except as other films of its ilk. The victims become monstrous to fight their abductor. The monster plods on, incessant, cruel, ordinary.

    Wolf Creek drew upon actual events, melding them with obvious nods to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the brilliant 1974 classic, not the crappy remakes) and other surreal serial killer endeavors to craft a little picture that overcomes a distinct lo-fi aura and ends up being a visceral movie going experience.

    The film, which has been burning up the midnight movie screens overseas since summer, finally makes its way Stateside and should provide a devilish little respite from the holiday blockbusters and tidings of good cheer for the more adventurous moviegoers amongst us.

    At the core, McLean's story isn't anything new, as it milks the predatory fears lurking inside us all. Much like the aforementioned Massacre, the film purports to be based on actual events, in this case the serial killings of one Ivan Milat who used to pick up hitchhikers on lonely stretches of Australian highway and have his way with them in the woods and the more recent murderous endeavors of one Bradley Murdoch, who seemed to follow in Milat's footsteps. McLean's initially wrote what he considered to be a "pretty standard horror thriller set in the Outback" about six years ago, augmenting the tale after he learned of Milat's exploits. The result is a yarn about three partying youth – Liz Hunter (Cassandra Magrath), Kristy Earl (Kestie Morassi), Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips) – who purchase a jalopy and head across the Outback. Sadly, their trip is cut short after a day excursion to Wolf Creek, a giant craterous national park region nestled within the interior of Australia.


    The Weinstein Co.

    As mentioned earlier, the film is a lo-fi digital video excursion the ends up being jolty and grainier than anything Hollywood would have done. Initially it feels a bit amateurish, especially during the home movie-styled intro, but as the film progresses it slips into a natural feeling momentum that only adds to the overall compressed feelings of intense terror that not only saturate the characters onscreen, but also reverberate out into the audience members. This transference of nail biting insanity from screen to ticket holders is what ultimately drives the picture and makes it almost an interactive experience, something so few of the horror films tossed out onto the public ever achieve.

    While McLean's lean writing and realistic characters definitely add to the suffocating sense of anxiety, a lot of credit needs to be given to the players. Magrath and Morassi do a fine job of not only paying tribute to the classic inept women in distress archetype that is essential to this type of film, but they also elevate themselves above this now requisite stereotype, becoming a little more human than most of the heroines we've seen being trapped, mauled, and chased by cutlery wielding madmen lately. As for Phillips, he's one to watch, brilliantly playing up the Aussie beach bum/beer guzzling stud smartass role to the hilt.


    The Weinstein Co.

    Of course the film wouldn't be half as intimidating if it weren't for the villain, Mick (John Jarratt) who comes across like the bastard offspring of Jason (or Leatherface, take your pick) and Crocodile Dundee. He has that light-hearted "lemme slip another shrimp on the barbie for ya" demeanor, but his knife ain't just deveining shellfish, that's for sure. Granted, the film fuels a little of that red-neck xenophobia (here it owes a small nod to Deliverance), but let's face it, the fear of being preyed upon by the locals while you are on vacation is something that just about everyone who travels can relate to.

    Aiding in the implementation of the brutal suppression is the minimalistic and organically industrial score by Francoise Tetaz, who only has one other feature length film to his credit. Much in the same way that Tyler Bates utilized stripped down electronic drones and buzzes and clanks to fuel the fury within The Devil's Rejects, Tetaz essentially paints the onscreen images with a veneer of aural terror in the form of detached ambient tones dredged up from the darkest recesses of the aural spectrum. It all furthers the experience of trepidity that emanates from the screen.

    The Weinstein Co.

    The immediate knee jerk reaction After watching Wolf Creek is to never make plans to visit Australia. Seriously, this film will make any reasonable traveler think twice about planning any kind of cross-country jaunt through Australia's Outback region, let alone a visit to the natural wonders of the Wolfe Creek crater itself. In many ways Mclean's lean and mean little film proves that the Aussie's are still capable of beating Hollywood at her own game when it comes to bare boned horror chills. On the other hand one can't help but wonder how good this film is for the Aussie tourist trade as it's certainly not the type of cultural export you'll see the Australian Tourism Bureau endorsing any time soon.

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    "Problems are the price you pay for progress."

  2. #2

    Default Re: Wolf Creek Full review with pictures *new on dvd*

    I watched this last night, i didnt think it was very scary.
    John Jarratt was good in this movie but i thought he fitted the part

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