There was a time when Australian films came into vogue here in the
United States. Films like PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, BREAKER MORANT,
GALLIPOLLI and PROOF introduced American cineastes to such performers as
Mel Gibson, Jack Thompson, Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe and directors like
Philip Noyce, Bruce Beresford and Jocelyn Moorehouse. Then Hollywood poached
a lot of the talent and the renaissance of the Australian cinema slowed. Fewer
and fewer homegrown product was released theatrically in the U.S. Here in New
York City, we’d be lucky to see a gem like LANTANA or other movies like
JAPANESE STORY or SWIMMING UPSTREAM, but they became rarer. One
such rarity is the thriller WOLF CREEK, a crackling good yarn replete with
startling imagery, strong performances and even a sense of humor (albeit
WOLF CREEK is loosely inspired by several cases wherein travelers in
Australia mysteriously disappeared. (The film engendered some controversy
Down Under when the film’s distributor was asked to delay its release until
after the trial of Bradley John Murdoch who is accused of murdering British
tourist Peter Falconio. Murdoch’s trial began in October 2005 and, as of this
writing, was still ongoing. Writer-director Greg McLean has pointed out that
the film is based on several cases, although the media has jumped on some
similarities to the Falconio case.)
McLean’s tale centers on a pair of British women, the plucky Liz Hunter
(Cassandra Magrath) and the quieter Kristy Earl (Kestie Morassi), who are on
holiday in Australia. Enjoying the beaches and just out for a good time, the
women eventually meet handsome native Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips) who
agrees to drive them to Wolf Creek National Park to see a meteor crater.
In spite of having a girlfriend back home in Sydney, Ben begins a tentative
flirtation with Liz. After a brief stop to fuel their car, the trio eventually makes
it to the crater where things begin to get dicey. As it is getting dark, the car
won’t start. Fearful of being stranded in this remote area, the three welcome
the arrival of Mick (John Jarratt), a strange but seemingly innocuous local who
offers them a tow and a place to stay. Anyone who has ever seen a horror film
knows that things won’t go smoothly but I certainly won’t spoil the plot.
Suffice it to say that things take an unexpected turn and the tension ratchets
up with each subsequent scene.
In his feature debut as writer and director, McLean clearly has studied
the best of the genre. He knows how to slowly build tension. The early
sequences that introduce the characters allow the audience time to get
to know them and sympathize with them. These are not just cardboard
cutouts being moved around by a director to service a plot. The audience
gets to know the trio fairly well. Despite seeming to be a party animal, Ben
has a moral code where women are concerned. For her take-charge front,
Liz has a sentimental side shown in her growing attraction to Ben. Kristy
shows sensitivity and concern for her girlfriend. Once they fall into a perilous
situation, the audience is caught up in their struggles to survive.
I have to give special props to Jarratt for creating the character of Mick.
Back when I was first studying film in college, my instructor called attention
to Jarratt along with Mel Gibson, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, and Bryan Brown, among
others. The actor has enjoyed a fruitful career Down Under but never cracked
the international market, so it was something of a surprise to find him in this
film. His performance is particularly chilling, in part because it is quite different
from his other work.
Beautifully shot by cinematographer Will Gibson, WOLF CREEK takes
the classic elements of the genre – a handful of characters, an isolated setting,
a deranged killer – and twists them into a shocking and scary film.
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Running time: 99 mins.
Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.