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Venice 2013: Tracks and Wolf Creek 2

Posted on Friday August 30, 2013, 16:35 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Venice 2013: Tracks and Wolf Creek 2

Let's start with two Australian films at this year's festival, both dealing with the wilderness – albeit in very different ways – and putting the occasional helicopter shot (always a tough expense to justify) to very good use. The first is Tracks by John Curran, which charts the strange journey embarked upon by Robyn Davidson, who made news in 1977 by making the 1.700-mile journey from Alice Springs to the west coast of Australia on foot, taking along four camels and her dog, Diggety. Little is made of Robyn's motives, but in flashback we learn that her mother committed suicide when she was young, while, in the present, the adventuress repeatedly recalls her father's expeditions in Africa. Unusually, even these slight references to backstory aren't really necessary, since there is enough sense of a spiritual pilgrimage about Robyn's story that make it just about understandable, much like the mountaineer who cimbed Everest "because it was there".

It also helps that Robyn is played by Mia Wasikowska, a very unassuming but at the same time affecting onscreen presence. Wasikowska sells Robyn from the very off, as being the kind of 70s feminist that took off in her travels as and when she pleased, taking short-term work and sleeping rough on her twentysomething odyssey around the country. It takes a little while for Robyn's plan to emerge, but when it takes shape there is a sense of audacity and scale to it that impresses even now. Learning to work with camels, a species imported into the country and now living there ferally in pockets, Robyn finally gets the three she needs, plus a calf. And off she goes, pausing only to write to National Geographic Magazine, which agrees to pay her for her travel diary as long as she (reluctantly) allows a photographer to visit her at various points along the way.

The production values of Curran's travelogue are top-notch and so naturalistic it beggars belief, with Wasikowska adding a much-needed, ego-free performance that totaly grounds it in authenticity. The flashbacks are a little cumbersome, and the music often intrusive, but otherwise Tracks is a truly compelling girls' own adventure and a nice companion piece with Gravity in terms of hanging a broad-appeal story on the shouders of a female lead. It sometimes feels a little safe, since it's hard to make an art statement more powerful than the original, but these images here are captivating and Wasikowska is just perfect.

From Alice Springs we go to Wolf Creek 2 (pictured) for more spine-snapping fun with Mick Taylor, the Norman Bates of the billabong. I didn't much like the first Wolf Creek; it took too long to get going and when it finally did, there was a slightly dubious whiff of moral haziness about it, using real crimes as a springboard for some pretty extreme sadistic violence. For 50 minutes, Greg McLean corrects all those errors, dispensing with all that boring exposition so quickly that it's all done and dusted in the credits. Our leads this time are a German couple, whose encounter with Taylor (John Jarratt) does not end well. This time round, though, there are switch-and-bait surprises, some genuine attempts to portray the human cost of such vicious violence, plus a lot of exhilarating chases that could come straight from the ’70s golden age of Ozploitation, when Brian Trenchard-Smith was king.

Annoyingly, there is a but. Just as it has cruised past the point where most horrors crumble, Wolf Creek 2 starts to hit the skids. Some of the effects are a little crude, and the injection of overly broad humour (in the form of some ill-fated CG kangaroos) signals the beginning of a downward slope. The worst crime of all, though, is that Jarratt – a genuinely menacing screen presence, switching from genial buffoon to callous butcher in the glint of an eye – is simply over-explosed and given far too much to say, so that what is meant to be a terrifying climax in Mick's lair becomes a one-note, darkly comic (but not especially funny) meditation on British-Australian relations. Once again, the portentous end-notes claim a woolly basis in reality, so we can certainly expect a Part 3. The prospect of another, however, may not be such a bad thing, as this second outing came so very close to getting the balance right.

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