Film review: WOLF CREEK 2, from Built For Speed

The first Wolf Creek film was a landmark in Australian horror cinema, taking what could have been a mindless slasher or torture porn scenario and turning it into a tense, well-acted, superbly-shot, genuinely menacing slow-burn thriller; it did for slasher movies what Alien did for sci-fi horror.  Based loosely on both the Ivan Milat and Bradley Murdoch cases, Wolf Creek introduced an iconic and thoroughly disturbing villain in the psychotic outback man-hunter Mick Taylor (John Jarratt).

Given the expectations raised the by the original film, the sequel, while not a disaster, is a disappointment.  The problems begin with Mick himself, he’s meant to be despicable having been based on real life killers but he’s more of a comical monster spouting quips and catchphrases like a mix of Freddy Kruger and Bazza Mackenzie.  He still commits horrendous acts of violence including bashings, stabbings, shootings, whippings and dismemberings but he delivers these with a big wink that seriously undermines the film’s horror credibility.

The script is also problematic as it fails to build on the first film in a particularly inventive, disturbing or thrilling way.  For the most part Mick simply targets naïve backpackers in the desolate Western Australian outback, takes them to his lair, subjects them to horrible violence and in some cases, kills them.  Missing, however, is the first film’s tension and disturbing believability.  The script is an awkward patchwork of often underdeveloped ideas such as the sequence in which one of Mick’s victims seeks refuge with an old couple played by Gerard Kennedy and Annie Byron.  This sequence is over so quickly that it seems superfluous and Kennedy and Byron barely have a chance to register as characters.  The film’s ending is also jarringly sudden.

Director Greg Mclean also seems to have capitulated to misguided criticisms of the first film’s wonderfully realistic and creepy (but in some people’s minds slow) start as he leaps straight into the action.  Here Mick dispatches two arrogant highway patrol cops who unwisely try to make an example of him.  This opening sequence produces immediate problems as it makes Mick the central character as opposed to a shadowy menace thereby compelling the audience to sympathise with him more than they should. 

Oddly, Wolf Creek 2 spends about 25 minutes establishing two German backpackers (Shannon Ashlyn and Philippe Klaus) as Mick’s first victims before suddenly switching to British tourist Paul Hammersmith (Ryan Corr).  In a bizarre cat and mouse game Mick pursues Paul across the desert often letting him escape just so the chase can continue.  The problem, however, is that the film provides no backstory for Paul so the audience has no emotional connection with him when he falls into Mick’s clutches. By contrast, the first film cleverly spent the first 40 minutes thoroughly acquainting the audience with the three victims.

With its iconic outback setting, references to Skippy and Slim Dusty and with Mick a homicidal Crocodile Dundee, this film could be interpreted as a dark satire of Australiana and possibly a homage to Aussie classics such as Wake in Fright and the Ozploitation films of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Mick seems to represent the rugged anti-intellectual Australia of the 1970’s with his contempt for effete hipster smart-asses like Paul.  The film also attempts to skewer (so to speak) Australian xenophobia as, at one point, Mick subjects his victim to an Australian history quiz that’s suspiciously similar to the much-debated citizenship test with questions about Don Bradman.   All this provides some briefly interesting subtext before the film turns into a simplistic, silly, disappointingly over-the-top action/horror fest that almost lurches into Welcome to Woop Woop Territory.

If nothing else the film is well-staged on a technical level with superb cinematography featuring stunning vistas of the vast foreboding Australian landscape and intense car chases reminiscent of Duel and Mad Max.

Those who believe in the unwritten rule that sequels should be bigger and more extravagant at all costs will most likely revel in this film’s more furious pace and bigger action set pieces.  Those who admired the first film for its intelligence, menace and seriously disturbing depiction of something dark lurking in the heart of Australia will be disappointed by Wolf Creek 2.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Horror/ drama/ action.

Classification: R.

Director(s): Greg Mclean.

Release date: 20th Feb 2014

Running time: 106 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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