Friday, 29 July 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 43 - Wolf Creek

#58 - Wolf Creek

30,000 people are reported missing in Australia every year. 90% are found within a month. The rest are never seen again...
I don’t know how true the above statement is but I do know that 73% of statistics are made up on the spot, and that this film is very loosely based on true events. The characters and the murders themselves are completely made up but the plot borrows from two different real life encounters. This was originally written as a standard slasher film but then the two cases came to director Greg McLean’s attention and the film we have today was formed. This slasher film takes us away from totally radical American small towns and takes place in the wide and vast Australian outback.

We have two British girls Liz and Kristy on holiday in Australia. For some unexplained reason they are travelling with an Aussie friend Ben and they have just finished up two weeks in a nice beach town. They rent a car, stock up on food and provisions, and head into the outback in the direction of the landmark Wolf Creek crater (it’s actually Wolfe Creek in real life though) which is literally in the middle of nowhere. They have the worst luck there as the car they rented won’t start, leaving them stranded alone in the outback. But help comes in the form of a kindly looking hermit called Mick Taylor who offers to fix the car for them. They settle down for the night, glad that they’ll be able to get back on the road in the morning. Except next morning both Liz and Kristy are tied up, Ben is nowhere to be found, the parts have all been taken out of their car and Mick is actually a deranged psycho who’s got a corpse hanging in his shed.

Usually when watching a teen slasher film, no matter how well it is made, you always have that little feeling of safety that obviously this couldn’t happen in real life. There’s always that illusion that it’s only a film and it’s just there to scare you and be entertaining. With this film however, and not just because it presents itself as something that actually happened, that illusion is gone. Watch everything that happens in this film and you will come to the realisation that yes it could actually happen. There are no stereotypical horror movie clichés as none of the characters are cookie cutter slasher film stock characters. The three of them are all believable as real people and of course what happens to them is believable. And therein lies what makes this movie work. The killer himself is not some escaped lunatic in a mask or some nightmare creature with knives for fingernails, he is a real person that exists normally. I do draw a few comparisons with Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones and Ellen Page in Hard Candy as a person who appears kindly and jovial, someone who attracts you in and fools you into trusting them. Then once you’re sucked in, they change and they’ve caught you. A human predator, if you will.

The film was originally going to be shot in Mini DV but eventually got shot in HD and was done almost entirely handheld. I always enjoy it whenever you see handheld camera work because it does allow for more freedom of movement and a different kind of picture quality than shooting from a tripod or crane. The film has plenty of great wide shots of the Australian landscape, really capturing how isolated and alone the tourists are. Although there are plenty of nice shots of the landscape and scenery, for some reason the film doesn’t look too pretty or artistic, maybe because the colours aren’t really that saturated or just because of the way they were lit. Believe it or not, part of the funding from the film came from the idea that it would have so much showing off of the Australian scenery that it would make people want to see the film. Um, right...

The performances really keep this film looking and feeling strong. John Jarratt, who plays Mick is a big time method actor who actually lived like a hermit for months in preparation for this film. Believe it or not, he was best known as a smiley bubbly host of an Aussie gardening show at the time. I do mention his similarities to Ellen Page as Hayley and Stanley Tucci as Mr Harvey in that the character is likeable almost instantly and that makes the eventual change all the more startling. Mick immediately seeming like a wrong one or someone to watch out for wouldn’t be as effective if you ask me. The scene where he has Kristy tied up is probably the strongest scene performance-wise in the film. Apparently when the director was shooting the scene from Liz’s perspective as she looks in from the window, he became convinced that Kestie Morassi’s screaming was real and that John Jarratt had gone too far so he burst into the shed and surprised the actors. That’s how convincing the performance was. Cassandra McGrath who plays Liz does seem like a typical slasher film Final Girl and she’s shown to be quite smart and resourceful with how she distracts Mick so she can sneak in and help Kristy, but as you’ll see she makes way too many mistakes in the film. Nathan Phillips, whom a lot of people might recognise as a surfer dude who rode a plane with snakes on it, is also a nice likeable guy and his torture scene is probably almost as freaky and gruesome as poor Kristy’s.

I have to say that the scene I enjoyed the most was Kristy’s chase. She and Liz have been separated and so Kristy runs away from Mick’s camp and eventually gets to the road. I just think that scene is brilliantly shot and very suspenseful. It’s definitely different than the standard slasher movie chase and it really emphasises how completely isolated they are. I may be clutching at straws here but I think the car chase scene in Death Proof may have borrowed a bit from this film, as the film is referenced (Stuntman Mike’s car crashes through a sign for a drive-in movie theatre with this film as one of the attractions). Equally striking and well shot is the montage of Ben aimlessly wandering the outback, hinting that if Mick doesn’t get him then the harsh weather will. I also enjoy the whole travel montage done with the opening credits over it. It’s a nice fun scene to watch and it was also the first scene shot for the film so it kind of acted as a team building exercise for the three young actors.

So I took a bit of a journey over to Australia to get a look at their indie scene. I’ll admit, apart from Blue Water High and H2O: Just Add Water, I haven’t seen that much of the Aussie film and TV scene but I do like what I have seen. I have actually been to Australia though I wasn’t in any of the places shown in this film (and perhaps that was for the best). Here we have a film that pushed the boundaries of the horror genre and broke out of the stereotypical movie clichés to give us a horror film that was genuinely disturbing and prevents people from finding this too entertaining or enjoyable. Opinions on this film are pretty mixed but you can obviously tell what my view of it is. Take care, follows me on Twitter and maybe take a trip down under too.

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