Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Nathan Phillips,
Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, John Jarratt
Director: Greg McLean
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: April 18, 2006
“They call this ‘making a head on a stick’.”
Wolf Creek opens with a rather unsettling on-screen statistic about the number of people who disappear in Australia each year, some of whom are never seen again. That probably made more than a few people in the Aussie tourism industry reach for their Excedrin.
The film, written and directed by newcomer Greg McLean, purports to be “based on actual events”. I have a feeling it’s really no more a true story than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it’s an intriguing bit of chutzpah to add to the mix. People disappear in Australia? MAYBE this is what happens to them.
Like many horror flicks of late, Wolf Creek seems a bit of a nod to the low budgeted, grisly and effective tomes of the 70s. It’s unrated, dark, demented, and mostly devoid of any humor to lighten the tension. It’s mesmerizing, but not exactly pleasant. It’s entertainment for true fans of the genre only. Others will be repulsed. It’s the nature of the beast, so to speak.
It kicks off when two vacationers from England Liz (Magrath) and Kristy (Morassi) join up with native Australian Ben (Phillips) for a trek through the outback. And from there, what might have been a conventional road picture or romance takes some rather bizarre turns.
I can’t say too much about the plot without giving away key points, but I’ll summarize by saying their car breaks down, they try to get help, and end up face to face with a truly sadistic and merciless terror.
As with, say, the two recent offerings from Rob Zombie or the movies from Eli Roth, one’s ability to appreciate Wolf Creek will probably depend on how in tune one is with the classic horror lexicon, and one’s ability to stomach some pretty horrific gore and gut-wrenching sequences.
I’m a confessed horror junkie, so I couldn’t help but get into McLean’s style, his sense of foreboding, and his boldness in refusing to refrain from the horrific. The photography in the film is quite beautiful…were it not for the events eventually depicted in it, it might have served as a chamber of commerce styled look at the land down under, with its beautiful wide open spaces, clear skies and gorgeous terrains.
But that opening factoid does a lot to mar one’s ability to enjoy the beauty of the landscape, as well as the beauty of his two leading ladies. Kestie Morassi in particular is a stunner…I expect we’ll see more of her in the future. Just not in a sequel.
So be warned…this isn’t a movie for everybody. No need to email me and ask how in good conscience I could give a film like this three stars. I’ve told you where I’m coming from on this matter, and only you can know ahead of time if you come from a similar place. If not, I can’t speak for you. But speaking for myself, I enjoyed Wolf Creek on a base horror-fan level, and I look forward to even more unsettling work from Greg McLean in the future.
I mentioned the cinematography, and this anamorphic transfer from Dimension does it great justice. This movie looks far better than you’d expect for a picture of this nature. The colors are bright and vivid, the light and dark scenes both render with crispness and clarity, and the level of detail is strong throughout. One or two darker scenes exhibit a touch of grain, but no more than you’d normally expect from shots created with low levels of light. A superb job!
The 5.1 soundtrack is effectively dynamic and spooky, with front and rear stages opening up to give a real feel of the ambience of nature, and the claustrophobia of mortal danger. I’m pleased to say McLean never gave in to the temptation to throw in meaningless loud noises that turn out just to be a cat or something of that ridiculous ilk. McLean knows scaring is more than startling, and the use of sound for his feature is just one of the testaments to that fact.
I particularly enjoyed the commentary track with McLean, Magrath, Morassi and executive producer Matt Hearn. It always softens the harsh edges of a picture like this to hear the creators laugh and reminisce about their experience making it. There is also a decent making-of featurette, a deleted scene, and a trailer.
Wolf Creek is unsettling throwback horror done to near perfection. It’s relentless and unsafe, which will probably turn off as many viewers as it wins. Examine your fortitude carefully before you proceed, because depending on your character, this movie will either reward you greatly or punish you pitilessly.