Wolf Creek (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
Three friends, Liz (Cassandra Magrath), Kristy (Kestie Morassi), and Ben (Nathan Phillips), are on a road trip with plans of hiking along Australia’s Wolf Creek Crater located in the Outback. They reach a peak, admire the landscape’s beauty, and head down to their car without any problem. But when Liz tries to start the vehicle, it is completely dead. The plan is to sleep in the car until morning and get help. But as they settle down, they notice white lights from a couple of yards, steadily getting closer by the second. Ben thinks it might be aliens from the urban legends of the area.
Written and directed by Greg Mclean, “Wolf Creek” is a straightforward slasher flick but its approach is not standard because it is adamant in taking the time to build the mood and atmosphere. This allows us to buy into the latter half’s unflinching violence where Liz and Kristy try to outsmart a man named Mick (John Jarratt) who kindly offers to help them with the car.
The material benefits from a slow ascent to the climax. There are a handful of wide shots that showcase the land as well as close-ups of the characters being a part of it. We watch them enjoying the view, joke around in the car, get bored when there is nothing to talk about, and appreciating the time they have with one another. We get a sense of their personalities, perhaps even relate with them, so we wish to see them live through the inevitable bloodshed. During the quieter moments and the camera rests on a face, I found myself wondering what he or she might be thinking.
The picture’s grizzly violence succeeds with scenes that take place at night. While images like knives with fresh blood on it or mutilated corpses hanging from a rope demand our attention, it is the moments when a character hides in the dark or chooses to investigate how long the killer has been kidnapping people that make the most impact. The lack of score, using only carefully placed notes, adds to the urgency of the action on screen.
When there is daylight, however, there is significantly less tension. There are fewer places for the characters to hide and so the sinking feeling that the character is dead before the fact takes over. When it feels predictable, the problems in the screenplay are magnified because we are taken out of the experience and we begin to become more analytical of its technicalities. The violence, too, is more stylized in the light of day. It does not match the animalism that feels so alive when it is dark all around.
I am certain that some audiences will want to yell at the screen because at times a character seems to lack awareness that by leaving a weapon next to an unconscious body, the killer is given a chance to turn the tables around. I hate it when that happens, too. However, “Wolf Creek” remains entertaining because it offers elements that typical fares do not even bother to touch.