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October Challenge – Wolf Creek

2 min read

Talk to most of Wolf Creek’s strongest detractors and you will quickly realise that they are railing against a film they imagined, rather than the one they actually saw. After all, so many have been quick to stamp the film with the ‘torture porn’ tag – as dismissive and ignorant a brand as has ever existed –  without realising that most of Wolf Creek’s violence takes place off screen. The movie is far less gratuitous than most critics may remember. Indeed, it’s less a gorefest and more a brilliantly bleak psychological chiller, one that also happens to one of the finest horror films of the last decade.

Much of Wolf Creek’s success comes from how strikingly bare it is. Writer/director Greg McLean – one of Australia’s true cinematic visionaries – keeps things as basic as he possibly can. He doesn’t just strip down the plot, he strips down the characters too, presenting human beings that have been reduced to their archetypal foundations in a way that is tremendously brave. We have our heroes, Liz, Kristy and Ben, and though we care deeply for them – particularly when the horrendous machinations of the plot grind into gear – we do so because they are ciphers on which we can project ourselves. They aren’t underwritten, they are intelligently and sparsely written, and the difference is huge.

Wolf Creek Insert

Though Liz, Kristy and Ben are our sheep, it would be remiss not to talk about our wolf. John Jarratt’s performance as the primal, innately terrifying Mick Taylor is one of the very finest horror performances of all time: up there with Lon Chaney’s turn in The Phantom of The Opera, or Anthony Perkins’ work in Psycho. Mick Taylor is a burping, grumbly, grizzled force of nature, one that McLean again keeps strikingly enigmatic. He is the bogeyman of our nightmares, albeit one with an Australian accent and a wicked sense of humour.

A woozy sense of dread hangs over the proceedings from start to finish. McLean’s control of exteriors is remarkable, and indeed, the Australian landscape stands in as the secondary antagonist, leering over the action with bared teeth. The luxuries of civilisation are stripped away with every second of the film’s running time, as the modern world falls apart and the basic instinct of man is revealed.

In short, Wolf Creek isn’t a vapid slice of torture porn. It’s not an exercise in exploitation, or a gruelling attack on women, or whatever other hysterical tag stuffy critics branded it with upon its initial release. It is instead a masterpiece, a bleak classic that represents the very top tier of Australian cinematic achievement.