You've got to give freshman filmmaker Greg McLean all the credit in the world for trying to make a good horror movie. As it stands, the year 2005 will go down in history as producing some of the worst horror movies since the dawn of the drive-in era. Amid the 2005 tangle of White Noise, Alone in the Dark, House of Wax, Cry_Wolf, The Fog and countless others, McLean's lean, mean Aussie import Wolf Creek stands as an impressive achievement. It is genuinely shocking, impressively acted and McLean proves he knows his way around a camera right out of the gate. ... Which is why it's such a crying shame Wolf Creek is saddled with a totally generic Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoff script.
Just like the House of Wax remake, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre update, not to mention House of 1,000 Corpses, Wrong Turn and countless direct-to-video slasher flicks, Wolf Creek features horrordom's hoariest storyline. Stop me if you've heard this one before: A group of sexy teenagers traveling cross-country take a “shortcut” through uncharted backwoods, experience car trouble and suddenly find themselves at the mercy of a rural psycho killer. Wannabe filmmakers need to go to Blockbuster and rent something other than Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Please, people, start ripping off The Haunting or Curse of the Demon or Rosemary's Baby for a change.
Like T.C.M. before it, Wolf Creek claims to be “based on a true story.” Like T.C.M., it isn't really. Tobe Hooper's classic film was very loosely inspired by several serial killers, including infamous Ed Gein. McLean's film is very loosely inspired by a couple recent cases in Australia where nut-jobs have killed backpackers. In all honesty, the credits should just read, “Based on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre script by Tobe Hooper.”
So, with such a predictable script, what makes Wolf Creek worth watching? Well, McLean, unlike most horror filmmakers, actually cares about his characters. Instead of just offering up a handful of stereotypes for the slaughter, McLean takes a goodly amount of time getting to know his characters. Kristie (Leslie Morassi) and Lizzie (Cassandra McGrath) are a couple of young British tourists soaking up the sun in Western Australia. They hook up with casual acquaintance Ben (Nathan Phillips), a surfer dude who offers to drive them through the Outback. A slow-simmering romance and loads of realistic dialogue lift this miles above the usual teen fodder. Shortly after arriving at the titular location (a real meteor crater in the remote Australian Outback), however, our protagonists' vehicle suffers the inevitable mechanical breakdown. As luck would have it (bad luck, of course), they are rescued by Mick (John Jarratt), a rough-and-tumble character who invokes images of Crocodile Dundee's seedy cousin (kicking off a series of amusing pop cultural references).
Even if the film's three protagonists don't know where this is headed, viewers do. This little sidetrip won't end without massive amounts of bloodshed and a hell of a lot of crying. Unfortunately for most horror fans, none of this develops until fully half the film has unspooled. McLean takes his time establishing these characters, which makes their eventual fates all the more emotional; but it's at least 60 minutes before the first hint of danger even begins to rear its head. Those looking for quick, bloody satisfaction are in for a long haul. Granted, McLean does eventually deliver the goods, showing us loads of grisly set-pieces and some gut-wrenching scenes of torture. But it's all a lot of buildup and not much resolution. Once they are in mortal peril, our protagonists are required to perform all the usual horror movie mistakes. (Note to readers: If you are ever kidnapped by a blood-crazed serial killer and you manage to knock him unconscious, do not—I repeat, do not—just assume he's dead and run away. Pound his skull into very tiny bits, please.)
Compared to all the other horror films that have come out this year, Wolf Creek is a commendable one. Sadly, this sadistic slasher misses the mark by combining convincing acting and sharp directing with a completely paint-by-numbers script. By the time the story reaches its abrupt, unsatisfying ending, most viewers will be thrilled, chilled and vaguely unsatisfied. As a filmmaker, Greg McLean has got serious skills. No doubt about it. Personally, I can't wait to see his next film. All this kid needs is a fresh plot. And if he wants to continue ripping off Tobe Hooper, might I at least suggest stealing the story from Lifeforce. After all, the world needs more naked space vampire chick movies.
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