Written by: Greg McLean, Aaron Sterns
Directed by: Greg McLean
Starring: John Jarratt, Ryan Corr, and Shannon Ashlyn
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“n this world, there's people like me, there's people like you. People like me eat people like you."
Francis Ford Coppola recently stated his belief that films shouldn’t be judged until they’re about a decade old, a declaration that happened to coincide with my revisiting Wolf Creek just as it creeps up on its tenth birthday next year. Time has been kind to Greg McLean’s original film, which I can’t say I enjoyed when it came out because doing so would make me sound like a sociopath. It is a genuinely unpleasant, nasty piece of work, though, so it’s something that can be appreciated, particularly in its deft blending of classic suspense and stomach-churning gore. Watching it so many years later more or less confirmed its place as one of the more memorable horror efforts from the past decade, which is something I pretty much pegged it for in ’05, but you can never be too sure about these things.
I don’t know what I’ll think about Wolf Creek 2 ten years from now, but here’s hoping the years will be similarly kind; my knee-jerk reaction is to consider McLean’s long-gestating sequel to be a perfunctory, slight addition to the Mick Taylor legacy. Given the follow-up’s circuitous route to production, it was perhaps easy (and maybe unfair) to expect something a little more grandiose than the final result, which feels like the sort of film we would have been perfectly happy to get years ago but seems a little unfulfilling due to the wait. Sometimes, that ten-year window can be a double-edged sword.
I would say the film picks up some years after the events of the first film, but McLean simply treats this as another chapter in the deranged life of Taylor (John Jarratt)—for all we know, it could just be like another Tuesday for him. At any rate, he finds himself being harassed by a couple of dickish police officers looking to exercise their power and fill their quota: they bust him for “speeding” without realizing they’re screwing with the wrong guy, and the exchange ends poorly for them in a prologue signifying Taylor’s place as an anti-hero, something that happens to the best of horror icons, so McLean doesn’t shy away from it. From there, it degenerates into a redux of the original film, as two European college students make their pilgrimage to Wolf Creek, only discover that Taylor is still prowling the place all these years later.
From that description, you could be forgiven for assuming Wolf Creek 2 is a facsimile of its predecessor; hell, the film even opens with the same depressing statistics regarding disappearances in Australia from the original that scared me off from ever wanting to visit the Outback. McLean isn’t quite content to just retrace his steps, though, and detours about halfway in, at which point he mimics fellow Aussie Richard Franklin’s reverence for Hitchcock by turning the film on its head and contorting it into an extended cat-and-mouse game between Taylor and another unfortunate interloper (Ryan Corr). The shift allows McLean to invoke his Ozploitation ancestors by indulging in everything from vehicular carnage to home invasions—compared to the first film, Wolf Creek 2 nails your balls to the wall without sweet-talking you with suspenseful overtures first.
Which is not to say the film is a radical departure from the original. Wolf Creek has garnered comparisons to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in the past, and, for a brief moment, it looks as if its sequel will follow in the footsteps of Hooper’s 1986 follow-up because it is so much more kinetic and splattery from the outset. When the film transitions from the rugged, desolate Outback to neon-lit Australian city, it teases the possibility of bringing its backwoods psycho to an urban environment, just as Hooper transplanted the Sawyers to Austin in Chainsaw 2. Alas, it’s not meant to be—before long, we’re back in Taylor’s natural habitat, strolling down long, isolated highways that are both inviting and unsettling (Mclean’s ability to balance the beautiful and the macabre certainly earned those comparisons to TCM).
Of course, it’s not completely fair to judge a film on what it perhaps could have been, and what Mclean settles for is pretty good in its own right, particularly once the film finds its footing (the scatterbrained narrative either speaks to McClean’s indecisiveness or his commitment to keeping the audience on its toes, but it mostly seems like the latter). Wolf Creek 2 deftly glides between its various modes and functions as an engaging, visceral thriller. Much like the original film, it’s unrelenting in its escalation of violence and tension and remains effective even as it returns to some rather familiar staging grounds (the original is arguably one of the few mid-2000s horrors to earn its “torture porn” label, and this sequel follows suit with a demented trivia game that costs its contestant some appendages).
Where Wolf Creek 2 falters is in its treatment of its victims. Compared to the original film’s trio, Corr’s British interloper is a bit underdeveloped because he’s literally just the wrong place at the wrong time and practically intrudes into the film as an unexpected protagonist. Like the trio of victims in the previous film, he does become a bit sympathetic by virtue of stumbling into a hellish ordeal, but he mostly does just feel like so much prey for Taylor’s screwy pig hunt, a hapless pawn in Mclean’s nicely orchestrated and visually striking chaos.
Complicating matters is Taylor himself, who feels like later-era Freddy Krueger at times, spitting out one-liners and proving to be both revolting and kind of delightful—it’s almost as if we skipped a few sequels and advanced straight to the point where we’re supposed to kind of like the guy, even if he is a righteous old asshole (deep down, it seems like he’s just a very overzealous Aussie nationalist looking to rid his country of foreign vermin—or something). McLean doesn’t comment on the schism with Taylor’s characterization, and Jarrett simply delights in playing such an unhinged maniac without leaving room for any complexity. Mick Taylor is just a pig-hunter who revels in savagely murdering those who cross his path—he just happens to be oddly charismatic while doing so, sort of like the best of the old black-hatted outlaws from the old west (and indeed, McLean does visually quote the likes of The Searchers and other Westerns at times).
So it goes with Wolf Creek 2, a film that, like its predecessor, is a deranged, ferocious travelogue; in many cases, sequels to notorious films are an opportunity for its filmmakers to play off of that notoriety and deliver bonkers, cock-eyed follow-ups that make a text out of the original’s implied subtext (for example, Hostel II and The Human Centipede 2). In this case, Wolf Creek was every bit as fucked up as its critics would have you believe, so it follows that its sequel is even more committed to audacious fits of violence and gallows humor (for example, there’s a sequence where Taylor plows into a herd of kangaroos that might as well be bugs splattering on his windshield—it’s somehow funnier than it sounds, I suppose). It’s pretty much exactly the sort of sequel you’d expect Wolf Creek 2 to be—for better and for worse. Maybe it’ll be more revelatory in ten years, when it'll be less burdened by expectations; here's hoping it won't take long for Mick Taylor to return, though. I kind of love that crotchety bastard. Buy it!
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