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Wolf Creek

Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 01/05/06 10:59:33

"It’s not the violence—it’s the eyes."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

What would one of those true crime programs on A&E be like if it wasn’t made for basic cable? If the filmmakers could really cut loose and depict what it’s like to know you’re going to die in agony any minute now? If you could find an actor to not just play the part of a serial killer, but to actually re-create his thought process? What would it be like?

“Wolf Creek.” That’s what.

This new shocker from Australia, written/produced/directed by Greg McLean, is shot on video to look like a documentary of the real thing. McLean hopes, by emphasizing the fact that the events in the film were suggested by a couple of true abduction-murders in Oz and then shooting the film to recreate the look of on-the-scene film-journalism, he can intensify the audiences’ reactions. It works.

The movie begins innocently enough. Ben, Liz and Kristy (Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, and Kestie Morassi) are enjoying a vacation on Broome Beach, an Indian Ocean resort on Australia’s northwest side. They drive to Wolf Creek, site of a meteor crash umpteen thousand years ago. Getting ready to leave, they discover that their watches have stopped and the car battery is deceased.

They cuddle up in the dark to frighten each other with ghost and UFO abduction stories when suddenly Mick Taylor, a friendly but somehow off-putting Bushman, appears. He offers to tow them to his camp where he can fix the car and send them on their way.

It will come as no surprise to you to read that Mick is crazier than a meowing dingo and what he puts these city twentysomethings through in one hellish night is so brutal it makes “Saw” look like an episode of “Veggie Tales.” If you already have a hard time reconciling screen sadism with entertainment, forget this one.

McLean has said that the terrain of the country changes as the picture moves from its sunny opening segments to its bleak, nihilistic conclusion, and director of photography Will Gibson captures that change from warmth to chilliness perfectly. McLean’s eye is unblinking and the picture is the ultimate Take-the-shrimp-off-the-barbee anti-tourism movie. You know—see Australia and die.

But the film’s most outstanding element is John Jarratt’s performance as the mad Bushman. Watch him before he runs amok, sitting round the campfire with these tourists, 20-years his junior. He wants them to think he’s Crocodile Dundee, but he can’t quite pull it off. His eye contact is too intense, too insistent. Jeez, those eyes are creepy as all hell. He laughs in the wrong places, and continues the laugh a beat too long. Watching him try to mask his insanity is like listening to a deaf person talk. They think they sound right, but something’s off. Jarratt’s Mick is never quite at ease until he has a truly captive audience.

The script is pretty much standard issue, but it manages a couple of nice surprises and reversals. Just when you think it’s going to use all the usual cliches, it kicks the slats out from under you. And when Mick performs what he calls “putting a head on a stick,” whew. I won’t tell you what this means, but if you see it, you won’t like it.

“Wolf Creek” is unremittingly grim and, like TV news reporting used to be before anchors told you what to think of every report—“Now here’s a story that’ll shock you”—it’s disturbingly amoral.

There are a couple of obligatory shots of kangaroos in the movie, but it’s human nature here that is hideously red in tooth and claw.

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