Wolf Creek

on December 25, 2005 by Francesca Dinglasan
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"Wolf Creek" is a punishing film to watch. Not because it's inherently unwatchable--quite the contrary, in fact, due to the credible performances and a level of character development not normally associated with horror pics. What makes Greg Mclean's film debut a challenge is the unrelenting realism of its violence, which is certain to render an uncomfortable and visceral effect on viewers.

Playing off the almost total isolation inherent in a cross-country road trip through Australia, the film follows the joyride of British twentysomethings Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and their friend from Sydney, Ben (Nathan Phillips). The friendship among the trio, as well as a burgeoning romance between Liz and Ben, are presented casually and naturally, making the characters likable, despite the lack of concrete details revealed about their lives.

The trip takes a turn for the worst after Liz, Kristy and Ben return to their car from a hike at the remote Wolf Creek National Park. They discover that the engine in their wagon--an older, used vehicle bought on the cheap for the trek--won't start. Rather unexpected help comes in the form of a large tow truck driven by Mick (John Jarratt), a native Outbacker who assures the group that he can repair the car and just needs to tow it back to his place for parts. The friends come along relieved, hushing their mild suspicions when their tow seems to last an unendingly long time. Once at Mick's compound, the trio falls asleep by an open fire as he works on their engine.

The horror portion of the pic begins--and continues almost nonstop to film's end--with the ensuing scene as Liz awakes to find herself bound, gagged and alone in a room. A struggled escape leads her to hear Kristy screaming in agony, where, in an attempt to rescue her friend, Liz witnesses the utter depravity and mercilessness of their captor. Unlike traditional horror films, "Wolf Creek" is not comprised of a series of suspenseful moments that build and resolve as the killer does his deeds. Instead, it's a rather bleak and disturbing window on a steady flow of tortures, with only the occasional--and short-lived--spark of hope allotted to the tormented victims.

Film scripter-helmer Mclean furnishes an impressive first feature in "Wolf Creek." Skillfully avoiding cliches in a genre particularly vulnerable to them, the filmmaker manages to convey a lot with just a little. Liz stumbling upon a stash of camcorders from apparent victims of Mick, and watching footage as the madman offered help to various individual and families in their disabled cars, is an example of narrative economy at its finest. It's this sort of cinematic touch, littered throughout "Wolf Creek," that makes for interesting, though always difficult, viewing. Starring John Jarrat, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips, Andy Mcphee, Aaron Sterns and Gordon Poole. Directed and written by Greg Mclean. Produced by Greg Mclean and David Lightfoot. A Dimension release. Horror. Rated R for strong gruesome violence, and for language. Running time: 98 min

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