Screens Dastardly deeds Down Under

Wolf Creek goes beyond voyeurism in a hands-on tale of sadism

Uncanny things sometimes occur in films from Down Under. Based on an actual incident, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock dramatizes the enigmatic disappearance of several schoolgirls during an excursion to a wilderness park. In Fred Schepisi’s A Cry in the Dark, which also has its origins in a real unsolved case, a missing baby might have been abducted by a feral dingo. Wolf Creek announces at the outset that, “The following is based on actual events.” And though director Greg McLean’s screenplay conflates separate gruesome murders that were committed in the wide-open spaces of Western Australia during the 1990s, Wolf Creek invokes the authority of actuality to elevate it above the slasher genre. Opening titles inform us that 30,000 people are reported missing in Australia every year. Set in 1999, Wolf Creek brings to life the gory story of three of them.

A gory tale of psychopaths and lost tourists, Wolf Creek is based on a true Australian crime story.

Vacationing at an Australian beach resort, two young British women, Liz Hunter (Magrath) and Kristy Earl (Morassi), join Ben Mitchell (Phillips) in an expedition to Wolf Creek National Park. Ben, who is from distant, urban Sydney, buys a used car, and the three take turns driving through the vast outback, where ostriches outnumber humans and the nighttime sky is a carpet of stars. The mutual crush that develops between Ben and Liz merely strengthens their friendship with Kristy. For its first 20 minutes, Wolf Creek is, like the opening sequences of Easy Rider, a joyous idyll of the open road. But, horror intrudes in the form of a local bushman, who is as effective as the savage hillbillies in Deliverance at changing the movie’s mood.

After the three young travelers have explored Wolf Creek, site of an enormous crater carved by a meteorite, they discover that their watches have stopped and their car will not start. Stranded far from any help, they resign themselves to a solitary night in the desert, until a trucker suddenly materializes and offers to tow them to his place and then repair the car. Mick Taylor (Jarratt) seems an amiable bloke, Crocodile Dundee as Good Samaritan. However, at the abandoned mining camp where he hangs his hat—and hapless tourists he decides to impale—Mick turns out to be a lethal psychopath, a serial killer eager to add Liz, Kristy, and Ben to his roster of victims, after subjecting each to excruciating torture.

Wolf Creek

Writ. & dir. Greg McLean; feat. John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips (R)

Counterprogrammed against the relentlessly merry entertainments of the holiday season, Wolf Creek is a dexterous exercise in terror. Mick takes particularly sadistic glee in abusing the two women who fall under his control. What of the director, who has crafted an efficient machine for inducing panic—in his characters and his viewers? And what of that viewer when fascination overcomes consternation? Criminal investigators, we are told, were left without answers to what happened to Ben, Liz, and Kristy. Wolf Creek makes a questionable contribution to human culture, even while planting vexing questions about our species when examined down under.

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