Wolf Creek

English Title: Wolf Creek

Country of Origin: Australia

Studio: 403 Productions, True Crime Channel, Emu Creek Pictures, Mushroom Pictures (Associated)

Director: Greg Mclean

Producer(s): Greg Mclean, David Lightfoot, Matt Hearn

Screenplay: Greg Mclean

Cinematographer: Will Gibson

Editor: Jason Ballantine

Runtime: 94 minutes

Genre: horror (slasher)

Starring/Cast: Kestie Morassi, Cassandra Magrath, Nathan Phillips, John Jarratt

Year: 2005

Volume: Australasian

Two English backpackers (Liz and Kristy), and their Australian companion (Ben), embark upon a road-trip across Australia from Broome in Western Australia to Cairns on the east coast. Travelling into the outback’s dead heart across hundreds of miles of hard asphalt and barren desert, they reach the Wolf Creek meteorite crater, a key destination on their journey. Spending the afternoon at the picturesque site, they return to discover their car has mysteriously broken down, and the skies darkening overhead. When a friendly middle-aged roo-shooter Mick Taylor arrives and offers to tow their car to his camp to get a spare mechanical part, the young backpackers cautiously accept, suspecting Taylor will ask for payment in return for his services. Reaching his camp in an abandoned mining site, miles from nowhere, Liz, Kristy, and Ben have no choice but to stay the night and are assured their car will be fixed by morning. Liz wakes the next afternoon disoriented and reeling at the grim reality she faces – their food was drugged, she is bound and gagged, and Ben and Kristy are missing. Mick Taylor is a serial killer preying on backpackers visiting the Wolf Creek meteor site. First they must escape the clutches of a brutal psychopath, and then somehow navigate their way out of unforgiving desert to reach the safety of civilisation … with no idea of where they are.

Wolf Creek is the most popular Australian horror movie of all time. At the time of writing, the movie had earned over A$50 million in worldwide revenue from a budget of A$1.4 million, making it the most commercially successful Aussie horror movie ever made. On the back of the film’s popularity, director Greg Mclean was inducted into the ‘Splat-Pack’ Hall of Fame – a term denoting directors of prominent ultra-violent ‘torture porn’ movies in the mid-2000s – alongside Hostel’s (2005) Eli Roth, Saw’s (2004) James Wan, and House of a Thousand Corpses’ (2003) Rob Zombie. The film sold to distributors for A$7.8 million making it the first FFC-backed (Film Finance Corporation) film to go substantially into profit before release; and at the time of writing, was the most successful R-rated film ever at the Australian box-office. The movie is based loosely on two widely reported true crimes, the murder of British tourist Peter Falconio in the Northern Territory in 1996 and the Ivan Milat Backpacker Murders in the early 1990s. While the movie has developed a notorious reputation as an extremely sadistic and graphically violent film, it is nowhere near as depraved as this reputation suggests, or as gruesome as Hostel (2005), or the Saw movies. The ‘terror’ of the movie arises from disturbingly realistic onscreen violence – achieved through documentary-like storytelling – forcing viewers to confront the question what if I were in the same situation. At the heart of Wolf Creek’s popularity is the iconic nature of the movie, elevating it to the status of the quintessential Australian horror movie. Ever since early settlers first confronted the vast and unforgiving expanses of the Australian continent, the landscape has forged itself into popular consciousness. For colonists this ancient, isolated and mysterious land was alien; many experienced a sense of not belonging. The vast majority of Australians live along the coast; and consequently, the outback has become a mythical place – a dangerous wilderness where the improbable is possible. Wolf Creek captures this anxiety towards the outback. In the tradition of the ‘monstrous outback’, the landscape functions as a fifth character – an ethereal and dangerous entity. Rain falls in a desert, watches mysteriously stop, the landscape seems to oppose the central characters at every turn. Ravines appear from nowhere in the protagonist’s dash for freedom, the isolation is oppressive, and at the end of the movie, Mick Taylor fades into the twilight as though part of the landscape – a ‘monster’ sent to cleanse it of intruders. Mick Taylor has become an iconic Australian villain. Like Mick Dundee, the iconic hero of Australia’s most famous movie of all time Crocodile Dundee (Peter Faiman, 1986), Mick Taylor is a laconic, rugged, larrikin bushman in the mould of the stereotypical Australian male popularised in the work of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, but beneath the surface he is a crazed serial-killer, preying on unsuspecting backpackers. In so doing, the film shatters the stereotypical view of Australianness still held by international audiences around the globe, presenting a negative image of the Australian bushman. As a genre movie, Wolf Creek is also an innovative film. On the one hand, Wolf Creek follows a typical slasher plotline. Similar plotlines have been used in countless films from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) to the House of Wax (Jaume Colet-Serra 2005) remake. But Wolf Creek’s murderer, Mick Taylor, is not your typical slasher; he’s a dark version of Crocodile Dundee. The movie also has a two act rather than a typical three-act structure, it steers away from spooky music foreshadowing an upcoming bad event, and the main female character or the ‘final girl’ to escape in a regular slasher is the first to die while the ‘final boy’ – certain to perish – survives the carnage.

Author of this review: Mark David Ryan