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Two young British tourists, Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kirsty (Kestie Morassi), team-up with a jaunty Australian named Ben (Nathan Phillips) and go on a road trip across Australia to see the huge Wolf Creek meteorite crater in the heart of the outback.
Along the way they party, sightsee, have 'fun' with the locals and romance even starts to bloom between Ben and Liz. All is well, all is fun.
But when their car refuses to start, after they return from visiting the remote crater, the fun seems to have stopped for the three newfound friends.
Taking it all in their stride they try to make the best of it as they prepare to spend the night, in the middle of nowhere, in their car.
But then a saviour appears out of the gloom in the unlikely, happy go lucky, forms of outbacker Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) and his trusty truck.
Mick kindly offers to tow them to his home, where he has the parts to fix their car, and promises to have them back on there way by morning......
Based roughly on a couple of real life 'missing person'/'killer on the loose' cases that have recently become all too common in the massive stretches of lonely Australian outback, "Wolf Creek" comes out of Oz trailing a long line glowing reviews, and great word of mouth from festival screenings, in it's wake. And for once this hype is actually justified, as you shall truly see when the final credits roll.
Shot on high-def video Director/Writer Greg McLean gives his film that essential low-fi look reminiscent THE back roads classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".
It's the kind of look that automatically creates an atmosphere that high gloss films can never achieve no matter how much they pay some poncy set dresser or hip cinematographer to re-create it.
But it's not only the look of the film that powers us back to the grand old days of full on horror. McLean takes his time (perhaps too long) to bring in the nasty stuff, but when he does, he does!
And it's as far away from safe, limp, multiplex, mainstream frauds like the recent "Wrong Turn" as you can get!
The aforementioned build-up will most likely try your patience because you, at least, know you are meant to be watching some kind of horror film. And for nearly an hour, this is no horror film.
But stick with it and trust me ; the payoff is far more effective and far more powerful because of this build-up, although even then it did need trimming by about 5 or 10 minutes.
The strength of this lead up, to the fully fledged descent into hell the movie will take, gives us three very likeable, very real and totally engaging characters in Ben, Liz and Kirsty. They are certainly a thankful and far cry from annoying American teen slasher fodder we normally get, or the obnoxious trio of snot dribblers in the dismal "The Blair Witch Project".
Here are three people who are fun loving but never unpleasant, jolly but never annoying with it. They are three people simply enjoying life and the wild beauty of the Australian outback they are all discovering (Ben is a city boy).
Liz and Kirsty share a close relationship and obviously look out for each other, Ben is handsome and fun seeking but always respectful to the girls, genuinely enjoys their company and the romance between him and Liz is sweet and realistic as it slowly, hesitantly blossoms.
By the time their car breaks down we not only like being in their company but really, even though we've been waiting for 'the action' to start, don't want anything bad to happen to them.
For the first time in a very long time we have a movie that actually gives us strong, likeable characters to follow through the horror and even in a film as ripe with the stench of pure sadism as "Wolf Creek" is, that is a rare breath of fresh air indeed.
The isolated vistas of the Australian wilderness are shown to us on many occasions to fully hammer home just how far a whole heap of nothingness actually stretches. And although the visuals of scrubland and mountains do tend to be overused it certainly makes the backwoods/back roads wilderness seen in American psycho flicks positively small.
But it's when we finally get to spend time in the psycho's lair that the cinematography comes into it's grimy own. Although never resorting to the dreaded 'shaky cam' the visuals are still suitably rough and ragged so as to truly portray the fear and panic of our characters as the camera becomes their eyes as they stare in horror at the total insanity (as well as some of nastiest violence seen for a long while) that plays out before them.
Add to this some excellent performances from all concerned and you already have a strong foundation to build an effective terror film from.
Expectations. Expectations are the very bedrock of what makes a film like "Wolf Creek" live or die. By the very nature of it's existence in the year 2005 it is a film that follows a well worn trail and thus, given the amount of similar films based on similar ideas, the modern audience automatically comes to it with expectations.
And thankfully McLean makes sure that "Wolf Creek" twists, ruptures and rips those expectations to pieces, and he does this via his psycho character.
McLean gives his creation the freedom to fuck with everything you may have come to expect from the kind of situations that unfold in the movie. Here is a guy, not looking or really acting like your average killer, who is actually one of the most brutal, uncompromising, disturbingly realistic psychos ever put on screen.
The screenplay lets him do whatever he wants to do no matter how hard and sickening those deeds may be. But the greatest strength, the amazing strength that this character has, is that McLean makes sure that never, not for a second, does the audience ever feel safe. The character becomes so extreme, so uncompromising, and McLean lets him run totally free with it, that perhaps for the first time ever in this kind of movie you really do feel that no one is beyond his reach, beyond his sadism, beyond his evil.
Even in the superbly brutal and rough "Texas Chainsaw" you had a 'safe' feeling at the back of your mind that the psycho Family would not succeed in certain endeavours, not really go through with a threatened act and that they were probably set to take some kind of fall by the end of the film.
All these feelings are present in the many films that followed, or preceeded, "Texas Chainsaw", the expectation that no matter how gruesome and brutal things get some lines won't be crossed and certain established rules as far as characters (and their place and function in the plot) are concerned.
We were always pretty sure that Laurie would survive in "Halloween", we most certainly knew that Eliza Dushku would get no more than an inconvenient rip in her t-shirt in "Wrong Turn" and even in those films where nothing ends well we knew that the director wouldn't make death and torment too cruel and drawn out.
But in "Wolf Creek" we never have this safety even in our darkest ideas of how the characters may fare. It's a constant, unsettling, disturbing plummet into superbly crafted uncertainty that we are embarking on.
Will that 'thing' really happen? Maybe not, and yet with what we have experienced it just might.
Will this character really be smashed into a direction we never expected? They may not, in fact surely not, and yet...
And that is what gives the real punch in the guts power to "Wolf Creek", the fact that we truly could be about to watch the unthinkable and the genuinely shocking unfold before us, that here we have a film that really could blow away any expectations we bring with us.
For the first time, in a long time, while watching a film I for one never once felt safe in what to expect.
And that alone (despite the rather overlong build-up) is reason enough to praise this movie and to urge you all to check it out as soon as you can.
"Wolf Creek" is one of the most brutal, grotesque, shocking and surprising 'edge of your seat' fright fests to come along in many a year and is essential viewing.