Two foxy young British lasses, Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) are on vacation in Australia where they meet up with a local guy named Ben (Nathan Phillips) who decides they should pool their money to buy a cheap car and go on a road trip into the outback to check out a giant crater out at Wolf Creek Park. The girls figure this is a great idea and seeing as Liz is kind of sweet on Ben, they all climb into the station wagon and off they go with their camping gear to enjoy the sites.
The trio makes it to the park after a brief incident at a roadside restaurant where a few local guys make cat calls at the girls, and they set about exploring the amazing crater and the area around it. After their hike they head back to the car and they find that no matter what they do to it, it won't start. Just when they think they're stuck there for the night, a big truck rolls up beside them and a local guy named Mick (John Jarrett) gets out. He figures he can fix their car, but he'll have to tow it back to his place to do it. Although Mick seems alright at first, the more they get to know him they stranger he seems until they learn the hard way that sometimes you really can't trust in the kindness of strangers.
The feature debut of Australian filmmaker/writer Greg McLean, Wolf Creek is a pretty intense way to spend an hour and forty minutes. Though it starts off fairly slow (a common complain lodged against the first half of the film is that it's boring), we get to know the characters just enough that we're able to invest some effort into caring about them a bit so that when the inevitable happens and they're put into the jeopardy we all know they'll find themselves in, it works. The fact that the movie is pretty realistic helps matters a fair bit (a disclaimer at the beginning of the picture claims that it is based on true events – how accurate this might be is debatable) in the suspense department, as it would be all too easy in real life to make the simple mistake of just trusting the wrong person.
When it all hits the fan, and we know early on that it's going to, McLean shows a keen eye for directing horrific set pieces. The movie doesn't really pull any punches and the murder set pieces are both gory and completely unnerving – spines are severed, people are shot, bodies are cut up and there are all manner of after effects scattered about the locale. In fact, the location where the last half of the movie takes place is reminiscent of the farm house where the ending of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes place – it's creepy, eerie, and rundown in that scary all too rural way. The camera captures everything, all the dirt, the dried blood, the grease, the mud, the filth and it makes sure we see it to get a better feeling of just how remote the characters are, and how socially odd old Mick might just be. McLean also does a good job of placing us out in the middle of the outback and in the middle of nowhere even before the car breaks down. There's a serious vibe of alienation and loneliness in and around Wolf Creek that works on the same level that Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes does – these people are completely alone against whoever wants to do them harm and there's no one around to help them at all. On that level, Wolf Creek is raging success – it puts us in the characters' places and lets us feel for ourselves how desperate their situation is. The photography and sense of composition shown in the movie to make this happen is extremely impressive, and this movie just looks great from start to finish.
Adding to all of this are the performances. Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi are not only easy on the eyes but they're both pretty solid actresses if their performances here are anything to go by. Magrath in particular is able to portray genuine fear very effectively in her eyes but also manages to bring a sense of intelligence to her character that makes a few of the survivalist instincts shown in the later part a little more believable. While Nathan Phillips doesn't really stand out much as Ben, he's not bad either – he's simply there, a cocky young man who's hoping to get somewhere with one or both of these girls and to show them a good time while they're visiting his country. The star of the show, however, has got to be John Jarrett who is both menacing and sincerely funny as Mick. He's a physically imposing figure, a big guy with a bad temper, and he's able to bring a very manic look to the movie that really sets him apart from the pack.
While the sadistic kill scenes might be upsetting to some, Wolf Creek is definitely more than an exercise in sadism or gore – the character development, while not mind blowing, is strong enough to make for some interesting plot twists (an inferred love triangle of sorts is touched upon) and out of that the suspense in the later half is genuinely tens although those looking for gore won't be disappointed as the movie does deliver on that front. If the movie has one weakness it's that yes, there are some small pacing problems in the opening half, and it does feel in spots that it's taking a little too long to get going but its hardly boring, rather its coming to a slow boil.
The movie also has an interesting sense of black humor running underneath the surface. Aside from the obvious jokes like the ones that Mick and Ben make back and fourth at times as they first get to know each other there are subtle references to Crocodile Dundee and the Australian stereotype that Mick himself represents. While not necessarily humorous, per se, Wolf Creek also toys with our preconceived notions of just who exactly is supposed to survive in a slasher movie, a clever way of manipulating the audience.
Wolf Creek is not going to single handedly revolutionize the horror genre, it's derivative in spots of some of the aforementioned seventies classics that have come before it, but it is a well made, well acted, and refreshingly unflinching and very bleak movie that succeeds in its goal of providing some good entertaining scares. Greg McLean shows a whole lot of potential, here's hoping he can build upon what he has shown us he can do in this film.
Worth noting is that this DVD presents Wolf Creek in an 'unrated version' which differs slightly from its R-rated theatrical counterpart. The main differences are that two scenes which were included on the PAL DVD releases as deleted scenes have now been put back into the film – the first scene shows Kristy waking up beside a drunken and passed out Ben in bed and the second scene shows Liz in a pit at the mine where she finds a whole lot of rotten dead bodies laying around. The theatrical version ran ninety-nine minutes, this version runs just under one hundred and four, and these two scenes seem to make up the difference.
Wolf Creek was shot on DV but this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer almost looks like film in spots, which is a testament to the cinematography. The image is strong from start to finish very deep blacks and nice color reproduction. Shadow detail stays surprisingly strong in the later half of the film where everything is taking place in the darkness, while flesh tones remain lifelike and natural looking. There's a pretty decent level of both foreground and background detail present in the image throughout and while there is some edge enhancement present, as well as some aliasing, overall the movie looks very good on DVD.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are available in both English and French and optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish While there are a few spots where the rear channels sound a little low, overall this is a very good effort. The surrounds are used pretty actively during most of the key moments and it makes for some pretty atmospheric viewing. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow (as long as you're okay with the accents – they're really not that difficult…) and the sound effects and the background score are mixed into the movie nicely without ever overpowering the performers as they speak.
The commentary track with director/writer Greg McLean, executive producer Matt Hearn and actors Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi from the PAL release that came out a while ago has been ported over to this domestic release. While there is too much emphasis at times on how much fun the shoot was and how everyone liked everyone else, McLean does manage to get some good information out through this discussion, even if the two actresses don't add a whole lot of anything to the talk. He covers the tight shooting schedule which resulted in them having to film certain scenes in the rain even though the script didn't call for that and he talks about having to work on a low budget. Had he been on this track solo it probably would have been more interesting as at times the discussion loses a bit of its focus. Regardless, it's worth checking out even if you don't want to listen to it all the way through, as it's good, just not great.
The best of the supplements on this release is The Making Of Wolf Creek, a really interesting and quite lengthy documentary that examines the origins of the film. There's some great behind the scenes footage here as well as the usual assortment of talking head interviews and snippets with the cast and crew members. It's interesting to see some of the locations shooting and what not as it happens and to get some insight from the people who made the movie as to how their experiences were on the set.
Rounding out the extra features is a brief deleted scene entitled G'Day and the film's original theatrical trailer. The twenty minute interview with John Jarrett that was on the PAL release has not been carried over for the R1 DVD.
Wolf Creek is a very solid low budget horror film that messes with your head a little bit and gets under your skin. It builds slowly but the pay off is completely worth it and a few nice twists along the way make this one horror buffs should watch out for. Dimension's DVD doesn't include all of the extras from the PAL release but it looks good and sounds good and the supplements that we do receive are pretty decent. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.