Director: Greg McLean
The original ‘Wolf Creek’ in 2005 ruled my world with its slow, stealthy build-up, brilliant use of environment, brutal kills and none-more-nihilistic outlook. The story of backpackers meeting grisly ends at the hands of an Outback serial killer, it didn’t do much that was new, but did it with a brio, cynicism and nastiness rarely seen since ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’.
Fast-forward to 2014, when I was among those curling my lip at the very idea of ‘Wolf Creek 2’. It had been a long time. And after all, ‘Wolf Creek’ didn’t need a sequel. It is what it is. Reviews decrying it as a workaday retread lacking those very things that made the original unique served only to reinforce my ‘Wolf Creek 2’ prejudice, and I waved it off the boat.
Click forward two more years to October 2016, when among a treasure trove of birthday gifts was a box set of the ‘Wolf Creek’ TV show, something I didn’t even know existed until that moment. The idea of a series treatment of ‘Wolf Creek’ intrigued me way more than a straight-up sequel, particularly since the cover shows a kick-ass chick with a pump-action shotgun slung over her shoulder, suggesting some kind of tables-turned action, a trope I’ve adored since ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. It went on to the ‘to be watched’ pile.
Trouble is, I’m a completist type. I needed to sit through ‘Wolf Creek 2’ first. So with low expectations, that’s exactly what I did last night. And wow, what a nice surprise it was.
The first thing to note is that the two sequels it most resembles are ‘Aliens’, where James Cameron substituted the dread of the original for balls-out action, and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’, when as well as closing up the word ‘chainsaw’, Tobe Hooper added elements of berserk black comedy to his fucked-up family mix.
‘Wolf Creek 2’, then, is a much more action-orientated, blackly comic proposition. What’s more it starts at a lick. You’d have to look at ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ to find a film that’s quite so quick off the blocks. Within moments, it seems, the game of cat-and-mouse has begun as serial killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) stalks his luckless victims. As is often the case in horror sequels, the emphasis has shifted from victim to killer, but Jarratt rises to the challenge brilliantly. He plays Taylor as a cackling, darkside version of another Mick – Crocodile Mick Dundee – the archetypal, boozy, cricket-loving Aussie bloke we’ve seen in a thousand Castlemaine adverts. The difference is that Taylor’s is a survivalism philosophy gone spectacularly, sadistically sour, and Jarratt’s performance ensures you can’t take your eyes off him. Purely and simply, he’s a great horror movie villain.
Critics have pointed to the fact that the sequel gives Taylor a motive as a weakness of the film. I’m ambivalent. A brutal, gut-wrenching opening is followed by an action-packed, bravura and very-expensive-looking second act that serves up many of the movie’s best moments. Just as it’s reminding you of ‘Duel’ and/or ‘The Hitcher’, along comes a scene involving a kangaroo stampede that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. As with the ‘Chainsaw’ sequel it has an anything-goes craziness about it. You might know where the journey is headed – this is a genre film after all – but how you get there is a little more up-for-grabs than usual, making ‘Wolf Creek 2’ a thrillingly disorientating experience.
It’s not until the third act that the film gives you time to catch your breath, when director McLean stages a long torture scene – but with the inherent nastiness offset by clever interplay between the characters involved. Tarantino was apparently a fan of the original, and you can’t help but wonder if the two have been comparing notes: McLean employs similar strategies of using dialogue in order to create fascinating dynamics and thus makes the violence tolerable, cutting it above the usual torture-porn fare.
Still, there is torture. And it is violent. Maybe even more so than the original. But it’s the ‘Aliens’ to the original’s ‘Alien’ and it’s an absolute blast from start to finish, the most fun I’ve had on a sofa all year. Bring on the TV show!
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Wolf Creek, Hostel I & II, Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher, Eden Lake, Haute Tension, Inside etc.