Australia | 2014 | Directed by Greg Mclean
Logline: Several backpackers fall prey to a psychopathic, pig-hunting, outback serial killer.
When it was announced a sequel to Wolf Creek (2005) was in the works, there was a mixture of excitement and reservation amongst the horror community. Most horrorphiles rate the first Wolf Creek as a superior movie, and was easily the best Australian horror movie in a very long time. Genuinely disturbing, atmospheric, frightening, and original, Greg Mclean’s low-budget, old-fashioned, yet very modern take on the slasher flick was an instant cult classic.
Nearly ten years have passed since Mick Taylor (John Jarrett) carved up the screen with his big hunting knife and sent chills down spines with his wicked cackle. Mick’s back, with a few days to kill, and he’s gonna chew through more than just a bit of scenery. Wolf Creek 2 once again reminds it audience that the film is based on true events, and that 30,000 people go missing in Australia every year, and whilst 90% of them are found in the first month, some are never found at all.
The based on actual events tag is tenuous at best, despite the unofficial inspiration for both movies coming from convicted Australian serial killer Ivan Milat and the crimes known as The Backpacker Murders. No one really knows what went on between Milat and his victims, and certainly Paul Onions, the one-that-got-away, didn’t end up in a mental institution.
The screenplay for Wolf Creek 2 is co-written between Mclean and Aaron Sterns (who has published a prequel novel about Taylor’s exploits), and combined with Greg’s visual flair, this sequel has been aimed squarely at the American mainstream market. The movie was even cut by two minutes from its original Australian R to get an MA, so that in America it will receive an R, and not an NC-17.
But it’s not just the graphic violence that’s been conditioned (to be fair, the movie is still very violent, and there is a very messy headshot early on the movie, though in all honesty, its execution smacks of surreal black comedy more than genuine horror); the entire movie has been fashioned for audiences beyond the horror field. In fact, Mclean unashamedly wears a few cult classic American movies on his homage sleeve; Duel (1971) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986), with a hint of Mad Max flavour thrown in for good measure.
Wolf Creek 2 is more of an action-thriller with horror overtones. For those who haven’t seen the original, or aren’t True Believers, it makes for an entertaining fright ride, but there are some serious issues that make Wolf Creek 2 a failure compared to its superior predecessor. Mick Taylor was a genuine nightmare presence in the original, now he’s much more of a wisecracking Crocodile Dundee on a murder spree.
The audience felt significant empathy with the victims of the first movie because they were believable characters with natural chemistry, very likeable, and, most importantly, we spent time with them first. The victims in Wolf Creek 2 are cardboard cutouts, perfunctory at best. The main contender, Paul Hammersmith (read: Onions), is charismatic, but overacted by Ryan Corr, and the audience are encouraged (whether intentionally or not) to root more for the villain, as Taylor is easily the most developed, most gregarious character of the movie. This is the problem that plagued the Freddy Krueger character in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series; he became the “hero” of the movies, and as such the nightmare boogeyman element quickly dissipated.
No doubt one of the most discussed scenes of Wolf Creek 2 will be the Oz history quiz Taylor forces Hammersmith to play. It is here that the movie becomes a black comedy, and it is here that all plausibility gets thrown to the desert wind.
I’m not denying Wolf Creek 2 doesn’t look great (as usual in a Mclean movie, the cinematography is superb), and there’s an awesome set-piece involving a truck running down a hillside (so that’s where some of the $7 million budget went, ‘cos I was hard-pressed to work out how Wolf Creek could cost less than a million, and the sequel cost nearly ten times as much!), but the movie lacks the consistent tone and atmosphere of dread of the original, and the violence is nowhere near as realistic, even if it appears to be more sadistic, bloody and intense.
And why Mick Taylor does what he does at movie’s end makes no sense whatsoever.
Wolf Creek 2 is eating the Australian box office for breakfast, and it’s great that genre filmmaking is making such an impact, even if it has been so calculated. But for the True Believers, Wolf Creek 2 is homogenised. Let’s hope Greg’s next movie isn’t “Beyond Thunderdome”.