Thursday, September 22, 2005


They Did It Dogme-Style: A Film Review Of 'Wolf Creek'

I first heard about 'Wolf Creek' in Fangoria magazine's review of last year's Sundance Film Festival, and I've been waiting patiently for it ever since. Well, since then the critical acclaim has been pouring in, while I've not seen a single bad review. Therefore, I went to the cinema last night in high spirits.

'Wolf Creek' is the directorial debut of Greg McLean, who also wrote and produced the film, and if this is anything to go by, he'll be making films many years hence. In a particularly trying time for horror fans, it's great news that finally, the genre seems to be turning the corner.

Aussie Ben and his British friends Liz and Kristy decide to travel across Australia, taking in the sights. McLean shows them partying, and enjoying life, and gives us a real chance to get to know the protagonists. As they set off into the Outback, things slowly start to change. At a roadhouse, they're greeted with a degree of hostility, and they later travel on to the crater of the title, a vast hole in the ground left by a meteor strike. Odd things happen here - both Ben and Kristy's watches stop working, and then the car won't start. Getting desperate as the gloom sets in, the trio are 'rescued' by Mick Taylor, who seems a real odd character, a slightly mentally-imbalanced, if very friendly, bushman. They know it's not a great idea, and in particular Liz is very trepidatious, but lacking any other option, they go along. From there, things turn nasty. Believe me, they really do.

If anyone knows where I can get a poster for Wolf Creek, please let me know, because I would really like one!

Wolf Creek really is a stunningly effective film, a return to the days of yore, made in the same spirit as 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' Everything about it is brilliantly effective. Where to begin the praise? Firstly with McLean, who has written a story in which we actually live with the victims, get to know them, their quarrels, their foibles, their humour, the first touching stirrings of romance between Ben and Liz. If it weren't for this build-up, the film wouldn't bne anywhere near as effective. According to the Fangoria review linked to above, there is apparently a danger that some of the formative action will be cut from the American release - if it hasn't already, since I don't know the release date there. I really hope that doesn't/hasn't happened, as it adds a dimension beyond that which we usually get in a slasher flick, and if anything, I felt that at 99 minutes running time, the film could maybe have done with a touch of beefing up - I could have sat through another twenty or thirty minutes without getting bored.

Also deserving praise are the three leads. They all give very convincing performances, in particular Kestie Morassi as Kristy in what has to have been the least attractive of the three roles. Two other people involved in the film should be singled out for praise too - Will Gibson for some stunningly beautiful photography, and Francois Tetaz for a particularly haunting score.

From left to right: Kristy, Liz and Ben, our intrepid explorers - and, before it all goes awry, our friends too.

A part of the power of the film emanates from the way it was shot. Although clearly not a Dogme-95 film, McLean takes the best aspects of the films from that stable, while eliminating the pretentiousness and humourlessness that dogged films like 'Forbrydelser.' The hand-held camera works better than I had imagined it would, although at points it really is just too jumpy. By the end, as the drama takes over from the documentary, the camera-work is much clearer and stable, and we can all be thankful for that. Nonetheless, Dogme, though an odd and not necessarily particularly succesful filmic experiment, does have the advantage of producing very naturalistic films, and of course in a horror that's ideal, particularly when it's a slasher starting out with the 'based on true events' premise that Wolf Creek has.

Mick, somewhat unsportingly, carries a sniper rifle into battle . . .

. . .but not after Liz has had a go first.

The 'true story' stuff is somewhat dubious. The film is loosely based around the murder of Peter Falconio, and the killings carried out by Ivan Milat and Bradley Murdoch, but it's not a true story beyond that. A postscript after the carnage tries to reinforce the idea that it is, but I'm not sure how good an idea that is. The film also sports a logo suggesting sponsorship from The True Crime Channel, but were Taylor's actions any more real than they already seem on the screen, then the voyeurism involved would go beyond great filmmaking into the bounds of tastelessness.

A big part of the realism of Taylor's actions comes from the backdrop of corrugated tin sheds in a deserted mining village, the sort of place that can be found in the Outback. Whoever is responsible for the set design did a wonderful job, and I should like to praise them here.

Grim setting.

I shouldn't say anymore about the ending of the film, for I don't wish to spoil it for you. The scenes will have more power the less you know about them. All I will say is that 'head on a stick' really is, as many reviewers have pointed out, much worse than it sounds.

This is a film you really should see. If you only make room in your life for one very low budget (less than $2 million, and not a cent wasted!) horror film, let this be it, because it's one of the best films I've seen this year. Obviously, don't go if you can't take oppressive screen violence, but otherwise, book your ticket, baby, and get ready for the ride!

Running's easy, but hiding's harder - two of the film's most iconic images. This film should be as much of a rite of passage for young horror fans as 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' once was.

Ebay will be your best bet for a poster mate...
Happy -

I've had a look, but so far no dice. If you see one, shout really loudly!
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