Trivia Based on the infamous "Backpacker Murders" committed along the Hume Highway by Ivan Milat between 1989 and 1992 and on the Falconio case in the Northern Territories.
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Wolf Creek (2005)
30th Aug 05
Three backpackers are abducted and terrorised in the Australian outback.
If you’ve ever backpacked around Australia (and Lord knows thousands of people from the UK do every year), you’ll know that Oz is pretty much one huge island party paradise, and you’ll probably have countless tourist postcard memories of beaches, bars, beers, Bundy and barbies (that's bbqs of course, not plastic dolls).
Wolf Creek, however, chooses not to show this side of Australia backpacking (well, not after the first twenty minutes or so at least anyway), but instead decides to look at the darker heart in the middle of the paradise continent. A much, much darker side, set in the wilderness of the outback, where not all who live there are like the good old friendly Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee. Oh no, not at all.
Based on a true story (although to be more accurate it’s more of an amalgamation of several different incidents rather than one definitive account), Wolf Creek looks at the recent spate of attacks on travellers to its country over the past few years by focusing on the ‘real’ Australian bogeyman, the unknown outback killer. Made very cheaply (and effectively) under Dogma rules, Wolf Creek follows the trends of other recent low-budget terrors such as Open Water and Blair Witch and proves itself to be a very effective little shocker indeed.
Let’s be fair though, as effective a film as it is, it's probably not going to upset the Australian Tourist Industry too much, because we do get to see a lot of the upside to this country, especially during the film’s first half hour or so. Opening in Broome, W. Australia in 1999, we are first introduced to Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips) buying a car in which he intends to drive across the country to Cairns with two British backpackers he has recently befriended, Liz Hunter (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy Earl (Kestie Morassi). Obviously Ben is attracted to one of them (Liz), but he is still not sure if this attraction is mutual, and besides, he’s already told her about his current ‘girlfriend’ in Sydney...
If this sounds a little Blair Witch, well, it is, but rest assured that these three are a far more likeable bunch than those witch-hunters from Maryland, and they feel far more natural in their character’s roles on screen. It helps that they’re on a road trip together rather than a gruelling documentary shoot though, as we do get to see more of their lighter sides as they travel on up the dusty roads towards their final destination, singing songs about their own shit songs and spooking each other late at night with eerie UFO stories.
The level of filmmaking also far exceeds that of Blair Witch too – no shaky black and white handheld shots here. The cinematography, rarely artificially lit and filmed on Hi-Def digital cameras is well framed with several scene-setting cutaways that look great on film. In fact, so effective is the approach to Dogma 95, (the focus on performances and natural story-telling over sets and carefully-planned cinema), the first half of the film passes by like a dream, with only a minor incident at a petrol station that hints at the troubles to come.
Comic relief appears in the form of Mick, a well meaning outback resident who comes to their aid when they break down at Wolf Creek Crater, but it’s not until the group reach the mining town that things really begin to kick off, and Wolf Creek finally begins to tear off it’s sheep’s clothing to reveal the true beast underneath.
Very much a film of two halves, Wolf Creek does indeed then turn extremely mean and nasty. Not quite to the same heady level as the upcoming The Devil’s Rejects perhaps, but the violence, when it does appear is well-played out and certainly convincing enough to feel make any audience feel uncomfortable.
It’s pretty obvious where Wolf Creek’s influences lie (roll out the usual roll call, Texas, Hills Have Eyes, shall I mention Blair Witch again?) but it succeeds largely due to bold and confident filmmaking and a totally believable cast. Writer / Director (and producer! – did he make the tea too?) Greg Mclean has obviously set out to make a name for himself here with his debut feature film, and for the most part he has succeeded with some nice cinematography, lean story-telling, great naturalistic performances and one or two genuinely unnerving (literally) gore scenes.
Not quite a 'classic' then (there’s little in the film that can be called truly original), but Wolf Creek is still a terrific white-knuckle ride that feels far more satisfying than most of the plastic horror Hollywood has been peddling us of late.
Australian horror? No worries, mate.
Wolf Creek is released in the UK on 16th September 2005. The film opens in the US on 18th November 2005.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.