Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Wolf Creek (2005)
All right, this is kind of funny (to me if no one else): I’d originally planned to review Halloween: Resurrection for this—the one with the fake Myers found footage house thing with Busta Rhymes—because I’d only seen a chunk of it and it was pleasantly terrible. I went to put the used disc I’d purchased for three dollars at a local record/tape/cd/dvd type of shop for the express purpose of doing this review into my PS4 to give it a full watch before reviewing…and it wouldn’t read it. Cleaned it off, dried it, tried it again. No go. Never had an issue with the many discs I’d purchased there and the disc looked good, so…oh well.
Instead, I looked at the others I’d purchased back when I was going to do like seven or eight reviews this year for Machine Mean—still would have, but some personal issues caused me to scale it back and also skip the Vampire-oriented MM Fright Fest October event, sadly—and I’d already watched PIECES (and loved it) and my former-Troma-employee wife had already seen Graduation Day because they distributed it at some point or just because she’s always been a horror fan. I had Wolf Creek too, and neither of us had ever seen it…so here we are.
I’d heard a lot about this over the years and it seemed to have a bit of a reputation. Was it earned? Let’s unpack it, shall we?
[THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS BUT WILL NOT BE NEEDLESS AUSTRALIA JOKES]
Right out of the gate, we get a based on true events tag, which checks out. From quick research after watching the film, its script was inspired by the unrelated crimes of Ivan Milat and Bradley John Murdoch—leaning more heavily toward the former’s, from what I read. From descriptions of Milat’s crimes, I’d say this film is more closely inspired by what he did than two other well-known inspired-bys, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and PSYCHO—both influenced by the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, to different degrees. Debatable depending on how you quantify grisly shit, but macabre all around so let’s move on.
So, two British tourists, Liz and Kristy, have been backpacking across Australia and we find them in Broome on the northwest coast. Their Australian friend Ben buys a used car so he can drive them on the Great Northern Highway to Cairns, Queensland.
There’s a big pool party, then the trio wakes up the next morning with mild hangovers. They pack up and get on the road. Along the way they spend the night at Halls Creek. The next day they stop at a local spot and get harassed by some local yokels—“bogans”, I think they can be called.
Then they’re off to the titular Wolf Creek crater—spelled Wolfe Creek in real life. They hike down into it. There’s a tender, kissy moment between Ben and Liz, then they all head back to the car to continue on their journey.
Their watches have stopped and so has the car battery. They’re stuck.
A little while later, lights from a truck burn through the darkness and a friendly local, Mick Taylor, arrives to help them out. He just has to tow them to his place.
And that’s Where It All Goes Wrong for them. DuhDuhDuuuuuh….
Okay, where to start? I really enjoyed this one. I have competing feelings. It had what could be described as plot holes, but can also be interpreted as intentionally vague. It works as a straight exploitation film, but also could be deliberately viewed in other ways. I’ll get back to that.
I’ll start with the film’s presentation. Sound work is well done, but what really struck me was the cinematography. Beautifully shot film, especially for a low budget thriller chiller. Some fantastic shots, and consistently.
That cinematography goes a long way in setting the mood as well. Other than the early party scenes, there’s a real ominous feeling and the way it’s shot and edited gives a slow twisting of dread feel to it.
One of the best examples of this is a shot just before things start to go bad, when they arrive at Mick’s place—an abandoned mining site. This is an effects shot done with mattes and layers, I’d say, but still makes use of the setting and camera work. You can see the mining site and lights in a kind of bowl of light, surrounded by the dark desert stretching to the horizon.
That’s another aspect that is used very well. Isolation. Real, natural isolation due to the setting. Once things go bad, this guy can do whatever he can think of. There is almost no chance he can be stopped by anything other than his intended victims getting one over on him somehow. There will be no outside help. And he has flourished as a serial killer because of this very setup.
It’s revealed late in the film that he’s done this successfully for a while. Our intrepid trio fell victim to his favorite setup—sabotage the car and bring ‘em back to the Kill Site. Give ‘em some ‘rainwater from the top end’ and then do whateverthefuckyoulike to ‘em.
This brings me to one of the fun interpretations I stumbled onto of this film. This is the plot hole or intentional vaguery thing I’d mentioned.
When they’re going to Wolf(e) Creek and then hiking in and around it, Ben tells the young women about the meteorite impact that caused the crater, and about the weirdness of the area. When they get back to the car, their watch batteries have stopped, as well as the car’s. This is a tricksy scene, because it comes just after Ben talking about weird space-y stuff, and feels for a moment like the implication is the crater area sapped their batteries, stranding them. This is where I’ll entertain a theory I don’t agree with necessarily because it’s a fun idea.
Having watched the whole film I feel like it’s obvious from the footage Liz stumbles across in Ben’s camcorder—Mick’s truck at the place where the bogan bros fucked with them, well before the crater hike—that the MeanKillerMan followed them in a sneaky fashion, tinkered with their car while they were hiking, and then drove off to wait until dark so they could figure out they were stuck and he could be the hero (for a little while….). The watch batteries could’ve been affected by the crater magnetically in some way, but whatever happened to them, it’s used as a coincidental misdirection when coupled with the sabotaged car.
Another take is that there is a suggestion of otherworldliness to everything after they go in the crater. Not plot holes or misdirection—literally supernatural things are afoot, and Mick himself is either possessed of evil spirits of this place, or one himself, or just some kind of evil force of nature made flesh. I think this is bonkers and I love it. I don’t subscribe to it, but it’s a great way to liven the film up even more. It hand-waves the battery part into being spooky environmental side-effects, Mick not dying from being shot, and how he could be in exactly the car Liz tries to hide in when she goes back to the mining site of doom. Also, people seemed to add the very last shot to this one, where Mick is seen to walking toward sunset like he’s hunting, then fades or dissolves away.
I just figured it implied he was in the wind, never to be caught and always out there waiting for more victims. This other take makes Mick into something out of Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil, but I guess DD was also playfully vague about how much of it was supernatural, whereas I don’t think that’s really what the director of Wolf Creek intended. I could totally be wrong, though. And that’s the beauty of choosing your own interpretation of a work, creators’ intentions be damned, I suppose. You can just decide how to enjoy it. It’s not how I generally conduct myself, but barring the director and writer coming down from On High and saying for sure there wasn’t anything like that going on in the film, it’s still genuinely open. I’m not being sarcastic. I think it’s a fun take on a film I already enjoyed as a more tethered-to-Earth kind of exploitation piece.
Even as that straight up grindhouse movie I took it as, I wasn’t thrown off but what could be seen as holes or standard cliché horror character decisions. I mentioned them, but I knew if they characters always made great decisions, a lot of my favorites would’ve been uninteresting short films instead of rickety but fun features.
Ask my wife—when Liz shot Mick in the neck with his bolt-action rifle, I was telling our TV screen how to eject the spent casing and reload it to shoot him at least once more, this time in the head. When she gave up on that, I instructed Liz loudly to crush Mick’s fucking skull in with the rifle stock—or anything in the garage that was sufficiently blunt and/or heavy.
But that was part of the fun.
And it didn’t bother me that Mick was in the exact car that Liz decided to hide in—before he sadistically maimed and paralyzed her. He could’ve just taken a chance and been right. It’s a little—okay a lot—convenient, but I came for the grisly thrills, not consistency, logic, and perfection.
So that about sums it up for me. Mood, atmosphere, dread, great cinematography, believable performances, and cringe-inducing sadism and awfulness. Isn’t that what we keep coming back to this Slashers & Serial Killers realm of cinema for, after all? (tied-bow winky)
WHAT I LIKED:
- Cinematography and atmosphere
- Liz, Kristy, and Ben are well acted by Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, and Nathan Phillips, with a naturalistic, honest approach
- Speaking of performances, John Jarratt as Mick Taylor was great. Definitely not what I’d call understated, but I don’t think I’d call it over the top either. He was rough and sinister, but never crossed over into hammy or scene-chewing territory for me
- The 1971 Holden Statesman [HQ] that Mick drives to chase Kristy down [thanks, Internet Movie Cars Database!]
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
- Bogan Bros—why they gotta be so mean?
- Other than Kristy in the garage, Mick’s soon-to-be-victim binding skills leave something to be desired
- Buying a copy of shitty Halloween movie I was very much looking forward to tearing apart piece by piece only to find out my PS4 didn’t want to let me have my fun….
Worked for me, and there are fun alternative ways to interpret it, so it’s almost like two or three scary killer man movies in one!
I’ll give Wolf Creek…………………….7.5/10.
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife, young daughter, and a cat so black he seems to absorb light. Patrick’s stories have appeared in anthologies and periodicals published by April Moon Books, Shadow Work Publishing, EyeCue Productions, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A Tear in the Veil, was published in June of 2017 by April Moon Books.
His first short story collection (including its titular novella) TOO MANY EYES and Other Thrilling Strange Tales is forthcoming.
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