Wolf Creek (2005)

Backpacking in Australia is probably one of the ultimate student dreams. The combination of sunshine, parties, wide open expanses of countryside -- with the occasional kangaroo -- make it something of a rite of passage, something to tick off the list of Things To Do Before You're 30. Apparently, though, there's a dark side to Australia that we just don't get to see on Neighbours: 30,000 people are reported missing in Australia every year. 90% of them are found within a month, but some are never seen again.

That's the statistic that opens Wolf Creek. To put that into perspective, according to Home Office estimates, about 210,000 people are reported missing in the UK each year, and while the vast majority of those are found within a matter of days, thousands aren't. Okay, Australia has about a third of the population and a million times more landmass, so the figures aren’t exactly directly comparable. Nevertheless, throwing out random statistics within the first three minutes can never be a good sign -- and neither can starting your movie, then stopping for a montage during which you credit every single person who worked on said movie, right down to the tea boy, before getting going again. And I use the phrase 'getting going' very, very loosely.

Wolf Creek's storyline won't come as a shock to anyone who has seen a horror movie since approximately 1974. Three kids set off on a road trip into the middle of nowhere -- they’re going to visit the crater left by a meteor in the eponymous Wolf Creek, which almost sounds like it might be interesting -- encounter car troubles, piss off some locals, and get horribly butchered. The framework is identical to that of House of Wax, only without even the fun of watching Paris Hilton trying to act. The only factor that makes things a tiny, little bit different is that it's set in Australia, a fact that the director is keen to remind us of, as his shots of the scenery and indigenous wildlife confirm. The scenery and indigenous wildlife doesn’t have anything to do with the plot, and none of the action takes place anywhere near it -- it's pretty apparent that they just filmed some kangaroos and thought it looked cool.

Most of the film plays like that, too. There are at least five shots of either the sun or the moon, and one, rather spectacularly, of both during a full solar eclipse, except that the eclipse has precisely squat to do with the movie. Filming the moon is a decidedly rookie move, too; unless you’re making a werewolf movie, it's usually pretty pointless to establish that there's a full moon, and when you’re establishing that once every ten minutes, you really need to reconsider where your movie's going. Wolf Creek could have benefited from some very severe editing; it drags its feet so painfully it’s kicking up sparks along the floor. If the dialogue were worthwhile, or the characters and relationships interesting, or if this was being done in order to build tension, it might have paid off, but Wolf Creek spectacularly fails to deliver. Usually, pointless slasher movies like this pay off in the gore stakes. The grainy, shaky camerawork and cast of complete unknowns signal that this is a movie that strives for "realism". The thing is, audiences are now thoroughly conditioned by the high gloss of Hollywood, and we’ll happily accept that as reality. By comparison, this just looks amateurish, and counter-productively draws attention to its own artifice. Director Greg McLean has repeatedly said in interviews that he didn’t want to skimp on the gore, and instead intended to linger on all the disgusting, painful moments. Somewhere along the line he appears to have forgotten to include them, though -- I wonder if he’s counting on attracting only a "dedicated" horror audience here or something, relying on the fact that it’s the sort of indie darling that movie elitists harp on about whilst vowing never, ever to watch such trash as House of Wax, because there's at least one horrific moment that’s almost exactly replicated from the Hilton vehicle.

A movie worse than House of Wax is a difficult prospect to stomach, I know, but it is undeniably the case here. Wolf Creek didn't make me cover my eyes once; the only thing that even vaguely shocked me was the use of the word "cunt". I didn't even know Australians used language stronger than "rack off."

The horror genre has been afflicted with a near-terminal case of self-referentiality in recent years. Movies know 'the rules' now, and can riff off of them into paroxysms of post-modern ecstasy that is probably only fun to the person who wrote the 'jokes' in the first place. Wolf Creek doesn't do that, at least, but it doesn't do anything new, either. There's nothing original here, it stays firmly within the bounds of the genre, and while even that has the potential to be entertaining, Wolf Creek just can't be bothered. Its bogeyman, in the form of wannabe Crocodile Dundee Mick Taylor, is barely even frightening, and it’s entirely the fault of the kids' rampant stupidity that they end up in as much trouble as they do.

If it weren't for the Dark Water remake, Wolf Creek would officially be the dullest movie showing in cinemas this year.

IMDB link

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