March 24th, 2006


Wolf Creek

I think I'm over the whole recent resurgence of the survival horror subgenre. I saw Wolf Creek last night, and it pretty much hammered in the final nail. It's definitely better made than Wrong Turn or most of the other recent survival movies -- writer/director Greg McLean has a great eye for cinematography -- but ultimately it's just the same old same old.

"Well, here we are, city kids tooling around in the deserted countryside. Oh no, our car broke down! Hey, who's that?"

"Hi, I'm Mr. Stabby. Let's go back to my place where I can fix your car for you."

"Gee, thanks, Mr. Stabby!"


"Nice deserted mining town you live in, Mr. Stabby. almost done fixing our car? Hey, what are you doing with that knife?"


[90 minutes later]


The End.

As I mentioned, McLean is a talented director and even shows a lot of promise with the screenplay. He gives us nearly forty-five minutes to get to know the three main characters, which helps make us care when they find themselves in danger, a lesson the Hollywood horror movie sausage machine could stand to learn. He doesn't use shorthand either, there are no fake character-defining moments that make you say "Okay, she's the slutty one" or "He's the shallow horndog" or any of that nonsense. He just presents them as normal people doing normal things.

But once the main plot kicks in, the movie's on autopilot. It follows each of the three captives on the exact same trajectory: escape, run, get captured again. Except, like those ninjas who circle their target but only attack one at a time, each captive escapes only when the last one's story is done. It becomes repetitive very quickly.

McLean also commits what I consider one of the most grievous sins in horror fiction: the villain has no motivation. None. Why is he doing what he's doing? Who knows, he's just crazy, I guess! What made him this way? Unimportant! Go back to looking at the cool makeup effects! At least in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, one of the few survival movies I still adore, there was a history that helped explain the family's motivations. Here there's zip. Still, John Jarratt does a great job as the villain, doing the best he can with what is essential a cipher, no different from Predator or Jason except that he talks and makes coffee.

The film also suffers from Omnipotent Villain Syndrome, where the bad guy seems almost telepathic in his ability to be one step ahead of everyone else. In a garage filled with dozens of cars, he knows exactly which one a character will get into. He knows exactly where to stop his own car on the road so he can pick someone off a kilometer away with a high-powered rifle, despite the fact that his intended victim is there because of completely random factors. Also, his car never breaks down, though everyone else's does.

Despite McLean's promising talent, excellent makeup effects and good acting, Wolf Creek is a letdown. If there hadn't been ten thousand other movies exactly like it, it would have been a lot more interesting. But one can't help thinking that without those ten thousand other movies influencing him, Wolf Creek would never have been made. McLean might have filmed something else, something less derivative and more original. He still has a chance to, and I'm eager to see whether his next project fulfills that promise, but Wolf Creek is by-the-numbers brutality.