Let me preface this by saying that I did not view the trailer before I saw this movie, nor did I really know anything about it. I do not know if that will lessen the impact at all, but it might (not sure what they show in the trailer).
Writer/producer/director McLean shot this movie on a digital HD handy cam, giving it an amateurish feel – but it is far from amateur. The first 45 minutes feel like a completely different movie than the last hour or so, and that is one of this movie’s many strengths. McLean spends time letting the audience get to know the three main protagonists, who are Liz, Kristy, and Ben. They girls, who are both from Britain, are nearing the end of their Australian excursion, and they set off with their new Aussie mate, Ben, on a road trip/backpacking trip across the country.
McLean has an eye for the unsettling, even in the mostly warm first minutes, and he uses the stark colors and landscapes of the deepening outback to give it a slowly building sense of dread. Their are a few ominous signs – a dog barking viciously at something off screen, a rather unpleasant encounter in an out of the way gas station, and an awkward conversation about UFOs and aliens. I knew it was a horror movie, and the slow buildup is a wonderful way to create true and genuine tension.
Another thing that creates tension is the fact that the three main characters are so well fleshed out, and feel so real, that the audience begins to care for them. Knowing it is a horror movie, we know that something is eventually going to happen, and beginning segment, in its quiet, tender moments, make you wonder when that is going to happen. It’s all part of the extremely good package.
Another thing to like about this horror movie is that the characters, for the most part, do not do any stupid things or horror clichés; rather, they are trying to survive and they do respond in believable ways to the horrors around them. And when those horrors finally come, after an particularly amazing segue (going to sleep…sunset…waking up hogtied), they do not let up.
Part of the criticism of this movie is that it is realistically violent and brutal, but it’s a juxtaposition from the first half. It’s also a juxtaposition of civilized vs. uncivilized, and the sterile, uncompromising landscape of the Outback is the perfect place for this to occur. There wasn’t an over the top amount of gore, which is good, because the cruelty of what the three endure is enough to churn anyone’s stomach. However, the movie is not just simple exploitation – far from it, actually. It’s about that deep-seated fear of the unknown, and what could happen in an unfamiliar place.
McLean, while following a somewhat formulaic idea, stays far away from the usual stupidity. The fact that we have grown to care for the three main characters is why the second half is so effective, because there are things that happen to them that are so brutal that you feel it right with them.
‘Wolf Creek’ is one of the few good/great horror movies I’ve ever seen.