Wolf Creek (2005)

Starring: John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips

Directed by: Greg McLean

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Nowhere to run to... Wolf Creek

Strewth, mate - Australia's a dangerous place! If the spiders, snakes and crocs don't get ya, the serial killers will.

Every year in Australia, we're told, 30,000 people go missing. 904 of these are never seen again. Lost. without a trace. Based on a true story, low budget Aussie horror flick Wolf Creek tells of three such people, two sassy British girls and a soft city lad from Sydney who venture into the vast empty deserts of North Western Australia, never to return.

In concept, Wolf Creek is a perfect slasher movie in the time honoured tradition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Straw Dogs and Deliverance: stuck up urbanites invade the territory of backward country oiks and live (or generally don't live) to regret it.

Yet Wolf Creek is no straightforward orgy of blood and guts aimed to scare teenagers in the back row. Blessed with an 18 certificate, it is that rare thing in the multiplex these days, a horror movie that sets out to appeal to adults. So no pointless loud noises and gratuitous gore - instead we are treated to a neutral, documentary style and a naturalistic script, and, when it finally descends, some truly gripping, nail biting horror.

Setting a deceptively leisurely pace to begin with, the first part of the film introduces us to our three central protagonists, Kristy, Liz and Ben, a trio of amiable backpackers who have hooked up in Broome in the Northern Territory and are driving across the desert towards Cairns, via the eerie meteorite crater known as Wolf Creek.

You see, Australia is so vast and desolate that a meteorite can crash into the bush with such immense force that it blasts a hole several miles wide in the ground and no-one even notices. Small wonder, then, that a bloodthirsty serial killer called Mick (what else?) can carry out homicidal carnage on a massive scale and get away with it for years. And because Australia is so vast and desolate, when the battery of their car goes mysteriously flat, our heroes don't have a lot of choice but to accept a tow from the entertainingly stereotypical Aussie cobber (John Jarratt) who conveniently pitches up in his truck. Complete with check shirt, Crocodile Dundee hat and Alf Roberts repartee, he seems harmless enough. But poking fun at his accent and country outlook is a big mistake. Huge. That's not a knife. THIS is a knife.

And so the horror kicks in. And because everything that has gone before seems so real and plausible, it's really rather awful. Mick is a truly nasty piece of work, with no cute one-liners (okay, apart from one) to redeem him. Ruthless, brutal and insanely cruel, he's also exceedingly sloppy. But who cares if one's victims go crawling, bleeding, into the desert? With hundreds of miles of nothing all round, they're hardly going to get far. And so we are forced to watch as, every expectation confounded, he goes about his business. Nice.

John Jarratt as Aussie serial killer Mick in Wolf Creek

Well, no, not really. There is no gleeful, gory joy in this film in the manner of, say, a Wes Craven movie. Wolf Creek does not set up to shock and scare, it sets out to tell a terrible story, and it tells it very well and very credibly. A fair dinkum slasher film that replaces the traditional clichés of the genre with a much more blunt, realistic, visceral approach, Wolf Creek will literally have you on the end of your seat.

On second thoughts, let's not go to Australia. It is a scary place.

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