HEAD ON A STICK: IN DEFENSE OF WOLF CREEK

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In 2005, Horror films were in the boom of what will forever be known as one of the worst misnomers of a genre ever, torture-porn. I hate this label for a few reasons. The number one is that it implies, by name alone, that the people who watched films like Saw, or Hostel, as deriving some sort of twisted sexual pleasure from watching them. Do I think that some gorehounds do? Sure. Furries exist, Rule 34 exists, so absolutely. But this is a minority. But the label in and of itself, blankets any lover of horror, or these films in particular, as sexual perverts. And I think that’s wrong. It’s not true, and is disparaging to fans of these films.

Greg McLean’s 2005 debut film, Wolf Creek, suffers from this same nomenclature. And it is anything but.

If you don’t want to listen to me babble on about how I don’t think this is the case. Do yourself a favor and go over here, listen to the director give the case from his own mouth.

Wolf Creek, is how horror should be, it’s a gut punch. It does the things that good, compelling, storytelling should do. It introduces you to a couple of characters that you care for, that you want to see make it to the end, and then it pretty much tears you to shreds.

I was lucky enough to watch this film, in theaters, when it debuted. I was in the midst of going to as many screenings of modern horror films as I could. I was 24, making decent money, and was cool enough to not drag along my (now ex) wife. And Wolf Creek was a film that hit me. More so than Saw, or Hostel, or any of the imitators. It routed itself in some reality. This reality was, of course, foreign to me. I’ve never been to Australia, and I don’t know the logistics of folks who spend all of their time in the outback. But McLean throws his characters, the guys we are suppose to identify with, into a foreign situation. Even Ben (Nathan Phillips), our resident Aussie, is out of his element in vast landscape, after all, he’s a city boy.

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And we spend about 45 minutes with these characters, before we are ever introduced to the demon that is Mick Taylor (Jim Jarrett).

We spend that first section meeting Liz (Cassandra Magrath), and Kristy (Kestie Morassi), two British tourists as they have fun backpacking across the country. We get to know these characters, we get to see them as fleshed out human beings that we can identify with. Which makes what happens when Mick comes crashing into their life all the more frightening. We see relationships developing, and this is important. Horror tends to get a bad rap on thinly sketched characters that we have a hard time caring for. Greg McLean is more interested in us seeing the harsh reality that chaos can unleash on unsuspecting victims.

I’m sure, especially in 2016, that we will see some sort of backlash about misogyny in terms of how the film handles what happens to it’s female victims. I honestly don’t see it, as McLean holds back on some of the violence. Taylor is evil, he doesn’t ever once portray him in a positive light, and that informs the film in these terms. A very frightening, but blink and you’ll miss it, scene is the turn.

What turn?

When we first meet Mick Taylor, he’s charismatic, slightly off, but we view him as one of these wild characters who has spent far too much time in the Outback. But then he does something a great actor does, he does something in his face, and demeanor, that tunes you into the sinister nature of the character. This is smart filmmaking. It’s not pleasant, and it isn’t meant to be. Greg McLean has said that the nature of Mick is based in some reality. This is a reality that is easy to research when you dive into the well of serial killers. We’ve all met that guy who seems off, or textbook sociopath. Who views humans as nothing more than pawns in some game he wants to play.

Wolf Creek works in that it has some basis in reality, it isn’t pretty, and the bad guy doesn’t necessarily get his comeuppance in the end. Think about The Zodiac Killer, or Jack the Ripper, and you get closer to the approach of Mick Taylor, the Phantom of the Outback, a mythical yet real creature that exists.

The film is worth at least one viewing, and in all honesty, if someone you know had a negative reaction to the film, that is okay. I think that’s the intention, that’s what Horror should do when it’s at it’s best. It should send shivers down your spine, and stick with you for days after you see it. In the words of Black Christmas, if this film doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on to tight.

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