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Wolf Creek

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Wolf Creek

Director: Greg McLean
Runtime: 99 minutes
Cast: Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, John Jarratt

The Australian tourism board can't be too happy about Wolf Creek. It's a grim shocker seemingly intent on replacing Australia's current cinematic image as the zany land of work-averse slackers with a more sinister identity as the home of ruthless, remorseless, extraordinarily prolific mass murderers. And it's not as if the Australian tourism industry can attribute the film's gore to its maker's fevered imagination, since it's being heavily marketed as being based on "true events," a phrase that takes on increasingly sinister implications by the time the credits roll.

Greg McLean's international horror smash follows three aimless, amiable road-trippers as they party their way through the sun-baked Outback, drinking, flirting, and taking in the sights. Their luck begins to turn after their car breaks down and they encounter a seemingly gregarious, friendly good ol' boy (John Jarratt) who offers to help them out. They initially view the stranger with benign condescension, as a colorful Crocodile Dundee surrogate, but they come to learn much too late that relentless, primal evil lies behind his amiable, just-one-of-the-blokes demeanor.

Wolf Creek is atypically structured for a horror film. There's no onscreen violence at all in its first hour, just a gradual ratcheting up of atmosphere and a vague paranoia about what horrors the open roads might contain. Then the bloodshed and carnage begin and don't let up. In an impressive feature-length debut, McLean eschews overt stylization for sweaty, grindhouse realism in the vein of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Wolf Creek is the kind of well-executed sleazefest that makes audiences feel not just creeped-out but downright dirty, as if it would take a three-hour-long shower just to wash all the grit and grease away. For Fangoria fans for whom a visceral sense of stomach-churning disgust is the best possible response to a horror film, Wolf Creek is a delightfully sick Christmas present from the scuzziest regions of Down Under. Everyone else is duly warned.