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  • Rev Horror

Wolf Creek

Dir. Greg McLean (2005)

Three backpackers stranded in the Outback find themselves at the mercy of a vicious serial killer.

Australia almost feels like a cheat code when it comes to making movies about either dangerous wildlife or the types of people who take advantage of living in such a desolate hellscape. There are places within the Outback where you could drive for an entire day and not see a single other human being, and there are other places where you hope that's the case because the people you might see are not the ones you particularly want to come across. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of places in pretty much every country where you can run across murderous people, but there's something especially unnerving about an entire ecosystem that is perfectly suited to someone who seeks to do harm to others. Wolf Creek is about one such person, and it's an especially brutal retelling of a real life serial killer who terrorized stranded travelers for years before he was caught.

Ben (Nathan Phillips), Liz (Cassandra Magrath), and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) are traveling to see the Wolf Creek Crater, a giant hole in the ground created by a meteor that collided with Earth thousands of years ago. After taking in the beautiful scenery, the trio return to their car to find that it won't start, stranding them in the middle of nowhere with limited supplies of food and water. Fortunately, a kind stranger named Mick (John Jarratt) offers to tow their vehicle back to his house and repair it during the night so that the friends can be on their way in the morning. Unfortunately, he has no intention of letting them leave.

Modeled after the story of serial killer Ivan Milat (and to a lesser extent a murderer named Bradley Murdoch), Wolf Creek is a fairly typical story of people lost in nature who run across the wrong person. What makes it stand out is its commitment to being as brutal as possible, a fact that made director Greg McLean's film an instant cult classic amongst fans of extreme horror. It's Australia's answer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a dark and dirty affair that pulls a hell of a lot fewer punches than its American predecessors. Where TCM was almost entirely bloodless, Wolf Creek is mercilessly ferocious, an ostentatious torture porn film that is grounded in realism rather than simply abject violence.

Jarratt's Mick is a devastatingly savage villain, a killer who knows he's already won and acts accordingly. He takes his time with his victims because he knows that there's nowhere for them to go: even if they were to manage to escape, they'd never make it back into civilization. This isolation, made clear through the expansive cinematography of the bleak landscape of the Outback, makes his character all the more scary. Magrath's Liz does (nearly) everything right, but she's in Mick's world, and he is God and creator of it. Even a potential escape, hopeful as it may be, feels like it will inevitably fail. The inherent inequality of hunter and prey, especially when the prey is in the hunter's own environment, gives the film a hopeless quality that so many horror films try, and fail, to create.

While there are plenty of reasons for the film's lasting impact, perhaps the greatest one is the performance of John Jarratt. He is both intriguing and disgusting, and he handles the role with such a sense of humor that it makes him far more disturbing than he perhaps otherwise would've been. Mick has already garnered a sequel and a television series, along with a rumored third film in the WC franchise coming to theaters soon, and he definitely earned the attention. It's so easy for these types of characters to come off as cartoonish, especially when they are delivered as a wisecracking psychopath, but Jarratt never falls into that trap. Instead, Mick becomes a terrifyingly realistic killer, the exact type of person who would commit these heinous crimes in real life. It's an exceptionally difficult thing to pull off, and Jarratt does it astonishingly well, creating a character with an endearing joviality to go with his unflinching cruelty.

The one area where the film struggles a little is in its pacing. It's exceptionally slow, and even when the violence starts to pick up, it still moves along slowly. It's worth the wait, to be sure, but its a rough watch for people with short attention spans. If you can get past the tempo, Wolf Creek is a (barely) hidden gem that has its fair share of fans among horror lovers. It's easy to see why it became an instant cult classic, and it's a shame that there are still so many people who haven't seen it. Thankfully, it is one of the better-known Australian horror films, and it's got a well-deserved reputation of brutality.

Who this movie is for: Survival horror lovers, Australian horror fans, Desert mechanics

Bottom line: Wolf Creek is brutal, hopeless, and a perfect representation of exactly what makes Australia so damn scary. It's an incredibly realistic film, one in which the violence and bloodshed feels almost oppressive, and the fact that its based on a true story makes it all the more terrifying. The beautiful cinematography contrasts perfectly with the brutality on-screen, and the film is legendary as an extreme horror cult classic. It's got all of the grimy appeal of Texas Chainsaw Massacre while being wholly Ozzie. Wolf Creek is streaming now on Amazon Prime (and Tubi), and it's a great time to watch before you go on whatever outdoors excursions you have planned for the summer.

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