A Bigger And Badder Wolf: Wolf Creek 2

05/07/2014 4:00 AM |

Wolf Creek 2
Directed by Greg McLean

It’s been 10 years since the original Wolf Creek premiered, during which time it’s become known as one of the best horror movies of the decade. Director Greg McLean has made only one other movie: Rogue, a killer crocodile picture from 2007 that’s not much more than a well-steered creature feature; it’s also off most people’s radars, at least those who don’t keep up with Dimension Extreme’s new releases, which enhances McLean’s one-masterpiece mystique. Though hopes don’t usually run high for sequels, especially horror sequels—which have a bad rap thanks to the likes of Jason X and Halloween 6—McLean himself wrote and directed this one, so fans of the genre could be forgiven their excitement about his returning to the setting and characters he exploited so effectively once before.

Set half a decade before its 1999 release and vaguely inspired by Australia’s Backpacker Murders from a decade before that (as well as the contemporaneous Peter Falconio disappearance), the original film teased audiences for 35 minutes with various red herrings—archetypal toothless creeps and supernatural elements like stopped watches and a mysteriously dead car battery—as its heroes made their way to the title’s remote meteorite crater. Its charming indie romance unfolded along the road trip and subsequent hike, McLean’s camera sometimes hanging back like the characters were being stalked, reminding you that this was, in fact, a horror movie. By the time Wolf Creek introduced its villain, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), a serial killer who arrives in the night, you could figure him as just more misdirection, especially with all his charm and good humor.

It’s another 15 minutes before you’re quite convinced to the contrary—in a brilliant sequence that slowly reveals a torture chamber from an outsider’s POV—and by then you’re so attached to the sympathetically ordinary characters, and thus so concerned for their safety, that the brutality that ensues is all the more harrowing, particularly because the movie’s emotional and narrative sincerity make all the usual horror cliches seem irrelevant: you never feel convinced that at least one of them’s going to make it out of there. And even if they did, where would they go? Into the vast expanse of Western Australia, vulnerable to the elements, wild animals, or some forgotten family of crazies? The final survivor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre could at least run right out into the road to stop a car for help. Not so when you’re hours south of Wolfe Creek in the Australian boonies.

In contrast to those depopulated roads, this new movie is crowded with other victims, the kind at which the first film only hinted. They’re brought center stage, but the real star is Taylor, who gets the film’s first 10 minutes to be harassed by highway patrolmen-with-class-prejudices and then wreak over-the-top vengeance via rifle, knife and gas can. If the original Mick toyed with our expectations of both horror villains and Australians, the new one multiplies them by two and then outdoes the product. During one of the movie’s many car chases, Taylor drives a big rig (an homage to Duel?), squashing half-a-dozen road-crossing CGI kangaroos with its wheels (an homage to The Ring 2’s deer?); these rubber-burning pursuits conclude with explosions of escalating intensity, Taylor emerging like a Looney Tunes baddie with an endless supply of vehicles, lives, whatever—a sadistic Wile E. Coyote hunting humans with far more success than he ever had running down roadrunners.

Tonally, it’s reminiscent of when Leatherface shows up at the beginning of the first Texas Chainsaw sequel dancing atop a moving truck—the boogeyman having learned to boogie. As the first Creek provoked comparisons to Tobe Hooper’s seminal 1974 grindhouser, so too will its sequel draw comparisons to Chainsaw’s followup, which is now a cult classic but was very poorly received upon its 1986 release. (Both sequels also include journeys through horrific tunnels; the similarities are intentional.) “‘Part 2’ has a smirk on its face, and would rather giggle than scream,” Roger Ebert wrote of TCM2. “It doesn’t have the terror of the original, the desire to be taken seriously.” You could imagine critics writing the same words today about WC2—just wait till they’ve seen the dank dungeon “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” duet, in which a Pommy tries to prove his Aussie cred to the psychotic Taylor.

Mick’s first victims after the bad-attitude cops are German hitchhikers, in contrast to the original’s English tourists and Sydney native. (All three nationalities accounted for the known victims of Backpacker Murderer Ivan Milat.) Taylor will later accuse the tourists of literally “shitting in our backyard,” just one of the many xenophobic sentiments he expresses throughout. But first, those travelers will visit (or for us, revisit) the Wolfe Creek crater much more quickly than the victims who came before them; they’ll be much more quickly dealt with, too, one of them decapitated with a knife, his large penis soon after sliced off and admired. The fleet, pre-gore character development—the luxuriating in an edenic Bush—feels scrambled for, just a quick digression from the inevitable horror to come (especially after that opening). Which, it is: the killer is the hero, not the catalyst of action; Mick’s quarries pass off characterhood and victimhood as though they were attached batons, entry into a relay race for survival. Anyone fool enough to stop their car or open their door becomes a player in this drama, which means they become another casualty. (Those who callously blow past remain anonymous—and thus safe. As Mick later explains, the first rule of the Outback is “you never, ever stop.”)

To be generous, Wolf Creek 2 often feels like the work of hack-y producers who didn’t understand the first movie’s virtuosic craftsmanship, just its long-term critical success and the potential for a quick cash-in—that is, like it was made by moneymen who wanted more blood and snappier wisecracks: the Freddy Kruger of Dream Child rather than the original Nightmare. Then again, maybe 10 years just made McLean a dimmer artist, more interested in tasteless cartoons than artful genre work? Or maybe he wanted to take his original formula so far over the top (as when he sits a whip-wielding Mick atop a black horse and has him ride into the sunset in search of a victim) in order to mock such producers—or even the fans th
emselves, unfairly demanding more of the same just better.

Opens May 16