THIS REVIEW IS BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS.
First off, I gotta address a couple points. Number one, regarding the reputation of this movie. I think it’s getting a bad rap. One Seattle critic wrote about walking out instead of reviewing it. Another one (“shout out” to Andrew Wright as the kids would say) mentioned the other critic walking out and said he didn’t blame her (his review was “a recommendation, I guess”). Roger Ebert gave WOLF CREEK zero stars and pretty much condemned it as a failure for the human race. Even some of the horror fans who liked it are talking about it like it peeled off their skin and made them eat it and despite the unpleasantness of the whole ordeal they begrudgingly had to admit that it did a good job of forcing them to eat it.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a little more of a fun slasher movie than people are saying. Yes it’s more brutal and more realistic than many. You take the killer seriously because he’s just a guy, not Jason. Not some supernatural mutated retard with a scary mask. And yes he’s a rapist. But the audience gets off easy on that count. He doesn’t molest a woman with a gun like in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (3 stars –Roger Ebert) or force young girls to piss their pants like in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (3 1/2 stars). I was expecting one of those unpleasant movies that makes you stare at humanity’s filthy ass and you feel kind of guilty and unhealthy for liking it, like a HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (3 1/2 stars). I was expecting to have to endure a bunch of horrible shit that I probaly didn’t want to see, but it’s really not that kind of movie. I haven’t seen IRREVERSIBLE (3 stars) but if it’s how they said it was, with a long rape scene to torture the audience, it’s not like this one. The violence is more sparing here, it’s just that the execution makes it hurt.
I’m not trying to call Ebert a hypocrite or nothing. I think he was right about all those movies. Maybe his tastes are changing and now he would be the guy who is offended by HENRY. It seems to me he’s punishing the movie for being well made. HIGH TENSION, for example, he hated that too but at least it got a star and he had fun joking around in the review, despite it having a higher body count, way more gore, a dead kid and even a homophobic subtext if you want to get political. This one, he acted like it ate his dog. He is punishing it for being realistic, for not having a silly twist ending, for having a genuinely scary villain. If the guy was dressed up as an evil clown or had supernatural powers or something, I bet it would’ve gotten that one star.
On his show, Ebert tried to explain the difference between WOLF CREEK and DEVIL’S REJECTS. He said something like “a reasonable person can see that DEVIL’S REJECTS is a film, with performances.” As if somebody tricked him into thinking WOLF CREEK was a live broadcast of an actual event.
I guess I just don’t understand why he thinks this is the one that “crossed the line” when to me it seems tame compared to some of those that he liked as recently as last summer. But I’m not saying it’s a rollicking day at the park with the kids buying some balloons and eating hot dogs, and to be frankly honest I sort of wondered why some of the sick fucks around me were laughing at certain parts. But this is not a portrait of a serial killer, this is an australian chainsawless massacre. Two roadtripping girls and a guy get stranded out in the Australian booneys and a maniac bushman chases them and does things to them that I personally would consider to be morally inappropriate. There’s some gruesome torment and what not, because “you must taste blood in order to be a man” says Sam Raimi of his EVIL DEAD pictures (3 stars for part 2, I don’t think Ebert reviewed the first one). But the emphasis of this picture is not on sitting there watching somebody get tortured, like the reviews made me think. The movie is energetic. It’s all about the running, the being chased, the trying to fight back, the thinking you might get away, the suddenly realizing you’re fucked after all. Hell, there’s even a car chase. Made me think of MAD MAX.
It helps that the movie is Australian so you don’t get the genetically engineered Hollywood kids we usually get. There’s one cutesy scene that I got to admit I thought was pretty amazing, where two characters who have unspoken crushes on each other awkwardly kiss and then start laughing. It’s hard to explain but it was such a real moment it went a long way toward making these poor bastards seem like actual people.
A brief side note about characters doing stupid things in slasher movies. I’m not necessarily against it. Alot of people complain about that shit, but I think the filmatists have to find the right balance. When people endanger themselves in movies, that causes tension. That in fact is what horror is is that moment when you’re horrified of what’s gonna happen to the character. There’s a scene here where people were yelling at the screen telling the characters what to do. The characters totally blew it, but I thought it was a realistic blowing it. I believe that these people would not have the werewithal to take care of business in this type of situation. There are other scenes where the mistakes are maybe too stupid to be believed, but not too many. And there’s only one scene I wish they would’ve cut out, where she stops to watch home videos she finds of the victims. This part is ridiculous. She even pauses a tape that shows the killer’s truck parked near them when they stopped to get gas. That would’ve been a great detail for some freak to notice when he watches it again on DVD, but don’t rub my face in it. Come on. The reason this scene sticks out though is because the rest of the movie seems so different from your standard bad horror that you don’t expect it to ever stoop to that kind of nonsense.
I think the best scene in the movie is the scene halfway through where it officially turns from road trip to horror movie: (spoiler spoily spoiling) a girl wakes up bound and gagged in a shed, manages to get out and hears her other friend screaming in pain. The apparent perpetrator has just spent several hours towing their broken down car out to the middle of nowhere. You have to picture yourself in her shoes (or bare feet at first, but luckily she does find her shoes). The only way she can survive is if she turns around and runs like hell for about two weeks and hopefully finds somebody to help her. (And hopefully not the gas station attendant/cook from TEXAS CHAIN SAW or Captain Spaulding from HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. You know, there are alot of Bad Samaritans out there.)
But you can’t run, because that’s your friend in there, you can’t just leave her. The movie plays off these kinds of hopeless situations and off the fears and weaknesses of city slickers. If these people knew anything about buying a good used car or fixing a car engine, if they knew how to load guns or how to use knives, maybe they wouldn’t be in this mess. (There’s also a humiliating run-in with some tough guys in a roadhouse, but I don’t think that has as much bearing on their predicament.) Also it would help if the knucklehead boyfriend didn’t make fun of a stranger by quoting Crocodile Dundee. Australian rednecks take that shit personally. At least he didn’t bring up part 2 or 3, I guess.
I like it when they use class tensions to jack up the discomfort in horror movies. Hopefully the characters are likable, but you still convince the audience that they are poking their nose where it doesn’t belong. Or at least they are being annoying tourists. The scene where the bushman gets offended is great because you feel like our hapless protagonists are asking for it. But they’re really not, because this guy didn’t tow them all the way out there to fix their car. But still, throw some guilt in there to make us squirm.
Okay, so that was my first point, it’s a well made slasher movie, not some horrible rape and torture festival. The second thing I gotta bring up is this bullshit about “BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS.” Yes, this movie is based on actual events, because people actually have been murdered in Australia before. Also, the whole STAR TREK series is based on actually events, because there really is outer space.
I got a pet peeve lately with the way they’re marketing horror movies. It could be fucking ANYTHING they’re gonna claim it’s based on actual events. It doesn’t even matter if it’s supernatural, they’re still gonna tell you it’s real. There was the WHITE NOISE trailer with its “actual recordings” of ghosts. And I think it was the same narrator trying to convince us that THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE really happened. And that “what happened in Amityville has never been fully explained” (unless you count the time when that lawyer admitted that he and the new owners of the house made the whole thing up). I even saw an infomercial interviewing “real” “voodoo” “experts” explaining how you use a lock of hair to do a certain spell and also Kate Hudson stars in SKELETON KEY. I guess I’m a paranoid dude because I almost want to tie this in with the current anti-science stance in our government, where instead of actually doing tests you just make up numbers that fit what big business wants to do, and instead of teaching just science in science class they want to throw in some religion. (“Intelligent design” should be called “Cool Ranch Creationism” if you ask me.) I bet spoonbending will make a big comeback pretty soon.
Before the movie they showed 4 trailers for upcoming horror movies. Three were remakes (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, PULSE) and the other (HOSTEL) claimed to be “based on actual events.” (They also threw in a CURIOUS GEORGE ad for good measure.) Okay, so I know that “misleading advertising” is one of those oxymorons, but this shit pisses me off because everyone in the audience is either being tricked or having their intelligence insulted.
Another thing that’s misleading, there are no wolves in this movie. That’s the name of a place. Sorry, wolf fans. Also there’s not a creek. I guess some people might be bummed out about that if they are really into creeks, but I’m not so I didn’t have a problem with it.
Well, now that I have made my two points that I wanted to start out with, it turns out I’m almost done with my review. This is a really well made movie that I would recommend to all serious horror fans. If you are an amateur you can stay home and jerk off to HOUSE OF WAX but all pros, come with me to the WC. Still, there is one thing that keeps dub-C from being a classic and it involves the end, so read on with caution motherfucker. The movie has a clever structure where the three victims get separated. One of them seems to be the dominant surviving girl that you get in most slasher movies, but after a while she, uh… fails. We’ll put it that way. Then we switch to the other girl and follow her as she puts up a fight, but she doesn’t make it. Then finally we follow the dude, who is not in too good of shape. It feels weird already because almost all slasher movies have a female as the last survivor. Oh well, change is good. But after we’ve seen the other two put up valiant efforts but not make it, we are ready for the big climax. It could be a showdown where the hero manages to kill or maim the Crocodile Dundee guy. Or there could be a long thrilling chase where he just barely escapes by the skin of his teeth, or where he almost escapes, or of course there could be the Bad Samaritan ending like HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. I was personally kind of hoping for a Reverse Bad Samaritan where the eight foot tall motherfucker who sexually harassed them in the roadhouse shows up seemingly as a co-conspirator but then he fucks up the killer. That would be some good old fashioned male bonding right there.
There are many exciting directions the movie could go at this point but instead, the dude just limps away and the killer isn’t around. The end. Oh-shit-it’s-on-interuptus. Maybe it’s true to life but it’s not true to the thrill ride of the rest of the movie. And this part of the movie has no relation to the “actual events” it is very loosely based on, so you can’t pull that real life shit. Anyway, realistic schmealistic. This movie brilliantly builds to a climax that never happens and I couldn’t help but be disappointed. It’s like if in HALLOWEEN, Laurie gets out of the closet and says, “Huh, looks like he must’ve left” and then safely leaves the house and the movie ends.
Still, the abrupt ending doesn’t erase what came before it. I checked, it’s still there. And before I go I got to mention John Jarratt is the name of the guy who plays the killer, and this guy is spectacular. Before he shows his true colors, he’s not menacing. He seems like a cool guy. Then he just takes so much delight and pride in what he’s doing. There’s a whole lot of horrible movies with killers cracking jokes, but this guy’s sense of humor made me genuinely uncomfortable. He reminded me that this movie comes from the same country that gave us CHOPPER.
Maybe that’s what the ads should say:
Sorry, I know I always suggest quotes for movie posters, I don’t know what my problem is. Maybe I was some marketing asshole in a former life. Because there really are former lives, I saw a movie about it. Anyway, if you’re into slasher movies, don’t miss WOLF CREEK.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.