Saturday, 18 February 2012

From the archive: "Wolf Creek"

In between countless teen slashers and negligible 70s remakes like The Amityville Horror, there slips the occasional stab at what we might call lifestyle horror. Last year's Open Water contrived to make jumpy anyone who could afford the kind of tropical holiday where one might swim amongst sharks; now, from the other end of the economic spectrum, there follows Wolf Creek, a grungy Australian shocker - think Deliverance gone Walkabout - that'll have its maximum effect on anyone who's ever gone (or who plans to go) backpacking. Its heroes are an Aussie lad (Nathan Phillips) and two young Englishwomen (Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi) journeying across an outback littered with ominous signifiers: lecherous locals, buckshot roadsigns, and vast plan shots emphasising man's insignificance in the natural order of things. Trouble begins when the trio detour to the eponymous creek, site of a huge meteorite crater and local hotspot for reported UFO activity, where first their watch batteries give out, and then their car fails to start. A long and bloody night ensues.

As an exercise in sustained high tension, Wolf Creek is pretty good, perhaps only lacking the novelty of a Blair Witch or the sadistic ingenuity of last year's Saw. There's at least 45 minutes' worth of build-up and minor tremors - the vivid, naturalistic performances help - during which time the attention-deficient demographic most modern horror is aimed at will presumably walk out in the search of more immediate thrills. Still, let the kids away to The Cave: for when the meat and gristle arrive, they fully justify the 18 certificate. Writer-director-producer Greg McLean, announcing himself as a major genre talent, doesn't default on the disquiet and gore, but also proves very shrewd in his choice of chills: at least one scene is all the more horrifying for something nasty not happening. It's not fun, exactly, but it is supremely accomplished for what it is: a rare example of contemporary horror where you genuinely can't see what's coming, either through the unpredictable nature of its assembled terrors, or because you're simply unable to look. Those who go to the movies to watch the sufferings of others will have themselves quite the time.

(September 2005)

Wolf Creek screens on Channel 4 this Friday at 12.50am.

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