★★★★ out of ★★★★★
The joy of youth. The post-college road trip. Finding your way in vast spaces. Unconstrained, unconfined, uncontrolled. The world is your oyster, until it isn’t.
Directed by Greg McLean.
Many have reveled in the youthful opportunity to throw on a backpack, see unseen sights, and travel great distances across untamed landscapes. These experiences are titillating and enthralling, but they occasionally have a pinch of mystery, danger, and uncertainty. That’s what makes these foundational experiences so great – it’s also what makes the 2005 survival-horror film Wolf Creek equally great.
Wolf Creek is elegant in its simplicity. The film, directed by Greg McLean (Belko Experiment and the Jungle) follows three young travelers (Liz, Kristy, and Ben) out for the adventure of a lifetime. Through a series of simple, interesting, and fun narrative devices McLean allows for the intro of the film to breathe and settle in to the long journey ahead. Additionally, McLean vacillates back and forth between vacation/party footage and film which creates a dreamy and unassuming pastiche. By slowly unfurling the main characters and allowing the audience to become a part of their travels, McLean effectively manufactures a realistic bond between Liz, Kristy, Ben – and he also bonds the trio to the audience.
The trio has decided to travel from Broome to Cairns, Queensland via the Great Northern Highway. Just a simple 2,000+ mile jaunt across some of the most desolate land on the planet. There’s no infighting in the group. They have fun, drink beers, sing songs, and roil in the cosmic expanse of the outback. The group opts for a quick stop at the Wolf Creek crater, located in the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater National Park, located absolutely NOWHERE near anything. That’s where things go off the rails.
After a quick hike to the crater, a couple doobies and some laughs, the group returns to the vehicle to discover that it won’t start. While a well-worn trope, McLean sets up the car-won’t-start with much aplomb. It’s believable, he creates empathy, but most of all it’s used to introduce the audience to the most welcoming and sociable serial killer of all time, Mick Taylor.
Grizzled and gregarious amateur outback miner Mick Taylor is a shining light in the darkness of the outback. He hauls the trio and their “hobbled” vehicle back to his compound, he provides them with a place to crash for the evening, and he gives them water. Life-affirming water. Trope two: don’t drink the water! The spaced-out trio awakens in various states of consciousness, torture, and shackles. While still under the influence of profoundly debilitating drugs, each of the trio, now separated, comes to the realization that grizzled and gregarious amateur outback miner Mick Taylor is really just a plain ol’ sadistic serial killer.
Each of the trio is eventually forced to rekon with the brutal Mick Taylor. Some of the trio are successful while others, not so much. The escape, the chase, the fight and the eventual climax are all entirely believable and accurately reflect likely real responses by real human beings. Mick, while unrelenting, is not without foibles and errors. He exists as a despicable human, but a human nonetheless. And much in the same way that Texas Chainsaw Massacre title card purported to be showing the audience “…one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history,” Wolf Creek employs the same fictitious hype machine. In the case of Wolf Creek this clever piece of faux exposition is dropped at the end of the film. Bam! Gut punch!
The concept of such a thing happening to well-meaning travelers is horrifying and grotesque. It is entirely believable and convincing, but it’s the vastness of the outback that creates an inverse air claustrophobia and inescapabilty. When coupled with the cruel nature of Mick Taylor’s fundamentally Australian persona, Wolf Creek brews up a nasty batch of trauma and terror.
Wolf Creek is rated R — hard R — and available for streaming everywhere.