Three young travellers (an Aussie guy and two Brit girls) are making their way across the remote West-Australian outback, and run into car trouble. They're assisted by the likeable-but-odd Mick, who tows them back to his camp, and works on their vehicle while they rest. One of the girls awakes to find herself bound and gagged, and things are about to get a lot worse...
Opening with a True Crime Channel logo and the sombre header “based on actual events”, Wolf Creek’s overly keen to boast its based-on-reality credentials. Don’t pay too much attention, though. Despite a faux post script which unwisely enforces the impression that what we’ve just watched really happened, Greg McLean’s raw slasher pic is about as based on fact as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, drawing inspiration from various Oz multiple murderers (Ivan Milat, Bradley Murdoch, the Snowtown killers) rather than a single event. Just as well, really. With all the distressing brutality on display here, anything even faintly closer to real life would render this exploitation of the lowest order.
As it is, McLean turns in an upsettingly effective psycho-killer thriller, giving cinema its latest great boogeyman in the form of Mick Taylor, a creation which smartly inverts the Australian myth of the chirpy, tells-it-like-is, Outback-yomping bushman. Realised with sinister relish by the burly, silver-maned John Jarratt, who clearly revels in the archetype-corruption (McLean’s script even cheekily throws in a few Crocodile Dundee references, including a horrifying – yet guiltily amusing – reference to the “This is a knife” gag), Taylor comes on like Steve Irwin’s sadistic, Satanic uncle, a former vermin exterminator who now uses his skills to torture and kill unfortunate backpackers.
McLean refuses to follow the usual slasher formula, and as impressive a creation as Taylor is, he never becomes a cheerable anti-hero in the Freddy or Jason vein, casually offing a string of unconvincing teens until the only one left is a squealy but resourceful girl. Shot on hi-def DV with a Dogme 95 manifesto apparently close to hand, Wolf Creek proffers only three victims using a leisurely (perhaps too leisurely for the more impatient among us), docu-style set up to let us get to know and like them. It’s a process greatly aided by a trio of strong performances by Cassandra Macgrath, Kesti Morassi and Nathan Phillips (although the former two do need to work on their British accents) and it makes all that follows that much more unpleasant and distressing – deeply distressing. We’ll spare you the scare-spoiling details, but for now just remember these words: “Head on a stick...”
A grimy gut-chiller that unsettles as much as it thrills, violently shunting you to the edge of your seat before clamping onto your memory like a rusty mantrap. Feel the fear.