Wolf Creek (UK - DVD R2)
Run! Run! Run for your life!! Gabe Powers reviews the horrors of Wolf Creek...
Once upon a time, in the outback or Australia, three young and innocent twenty-somethings made their way cross-country to the capital city of Sydney. Along the way they made plans to visit Wolf Creek, the worlds largest meteor crater site. When they get back to their vehicle, the engine won't turn over. Fearing they'll be stuck for an undeterminable period of time, they accept help from a helpful stranger who happens to be passing by.
The stranger kindly offers to tow the twenty-somethings to his own personal scrape yard, where he'll fix their broken engine, free of charge. The tow trip lasts much longer than they'd initially assumed, and in the darkness of night, they realize they've no idea where they are. After a chat and a drink with the seemingly charming Good Samaritan, they fall asleep, only to wake up bound and gagged.
Wolf Creek is the single most underhanded horror film of the last decade. Its great many accomplishments lie in its ability to make the audience like and care for its characters, including the monstrous villain. Fun slasher flicks succeed in that the audience knows the characters are going to die, and usually a great many of those characters are almost entirely irredeemable scumbags. The more jerks you have in your cast, the more fun the audience will have watching you kill them in horrible ways. It also helps for these slime balls to be horny and impossibly good looking, then the voyeuristic viewers can catch a little T and A action before the slaughter. It's a tried and true exploitation formula, and when utilized effectively, everybody wins.
Then along comes the twenty-first century, and young filmmakers want to regress back to the less fun Post-Vietnam era horror. Now there's a new crop of horror dramas that, gasp, make the audience think. Instead of having one identifiable, usually virginal heroine to root for against the killer(s), now we're given a small cast of downright likeable victims. On top of this, these post-modern enfant terrible supply us with identifiable antagonists, monsters we actually care for on a level beyond that of hockey-faced machete killer. The whole filming process changes too, and now instead of being voyeurs, the audience plunges into the abyss with these characters. Suddenly, horror flicks are horrifying again.
Wolf Creek doesn't only supply the viewers with likeable characters, but goes the extra mile to make them almost loveable. I could hang out with these guys any day, they're funny, charming, down to earth. This loving attention to character is extended most distressingly to the pictures main villain, who when we are first introduced to him is the very epitome of the stereotypical outback nice guy, willing to do anything to make you feel at home and at ease. Even while slaughtering the innocent (and remember, lovable) leads, he maintains his warmth a sense of humour, only losing his cool once. One gets the impression that the actors aren't even acting, which brings me a to another point, the realism of the film.
The fist fifty minutes are spent relatively fear free, following the mundane, yet fun journey of our three plucky heroes. During the making-of documentary and commentary track the filmmakers mention their want to create a documentary look to their movie. The film's final look actually goes beyond that, and there is a definite hyperrealistic notion to it. This hyperrealism makes for a more distressing atmosphere because rather than watching a film, I felt as though I was experiencing it.
There are some problems that keep the film from achieving neo-classic status, most markedly the fact that we've seen this all before. No matter how well made a film may be, it is hard to get excessively excited about something you've ultimately already experienced. I'm sure this was something the filmmakers took into account during preparation, and they do make strides to make the film as special as they can, but this was the kind of criticism that is kind of inevitable.
A misstep in the film's structure comes with its abrupt ending. In the prime days of grim and gritty psychodramas, which is what Wolf Creek ultimately aspires to emulate, shockingly abrupt endings were par for the course. It is a fine line between being shocking and running out of ideas, and though the supplementary material leads me to believe that the filmmakers were quite aware of the film's structure, I am given the impression that the crew ran out of time and sacrificed about twenty minutes of script. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left, among others, all end when the narrative has run its course, dispensing with any form of coda, and it undoubtedly works. Had Wolf Creek also dispensed with the coda, maybe the abrupt finalization of events would've lingered more hauntingly.
My quibbles with the structure and originality are really minor, and as I've said, only keep the film from achieving true classic status in my eyes. Wolf Creek is one of the best low budget, freshman efforts I've ever seen. This is a horror film that isn't as much scary, as it is exceedingly and morbidly suspenseful. Scary is too cheap a word to do justice here.
I expected very little video-wise from Wolf Creek when I stuck the disc in my player. From what I understood it was a relatively low-budget, gritty, Aussie horror show. I didn't realize, until after watching the supplemental features, that Wolf Creek was shot in High Definition digital, just like studio titles Revenge of the Sith and Sin City were. The results are nothing short of magnificent.
Detail levels are as sharp as the format allows at some points. Even the grain looks great. Any issues with the quality of the transfer, including the grain, is purely intentional or due to limitations during the filming process. The epic landscapes are as good as anything you'd see on Discovery HD, and the confined close-ups are so crisp you can practically smell the blood, sweat, and tears. The detail is so crisp that the solitary stock shot (of an airplane flying over the outback) sticks out like a severed finger, all aliased and edge-enhanced.
The film's look is greatly indebted to the digital gradation process, which seems to be the best thing (other than cost effectiveness) about digital film. The Making-Of Documentary on the second disc has a nice comparison sample of the before and after images, revealing what could've been a much less visually satisfying film.
Wolf Creek depends greatly on the merits of its soundtrack. The subtlety of the music and sound effects in the face of such immediate and exciting peril is more than commendable. Not once do the filmmakers cue up an cheap scare. This DVD is presented in Dolby Digital. Dialogue is well centered, and never garbled, throbbing ambient musical cues are deep, and incidental background noise is realistic. The Outback itself is such an important character in the film, and these tracks help push the haunting mood of the pre-mayhem nature shots. Keep your ears open for the fabulous sound design during the roadside sniper scene. There isn't any thing here to complain about, and I'd really picking the nit to do so.
Here we have another in an increasing line of lower budgeted films that plan ahead and create a decent DVD release. This two-disc set will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the film. Disc one starts things off with an engaging commentary track featuring the director, the producer, and the two female leads. The track is an even blend of information and anecdotal fun, without ever getting too technical. There are very few silent stretches, and at some points the participants actually begin to interrupt each other.
The commentary goes hand in hand with disc two's making-of doc, and the two really compliment each other well without going over too much of the same ground. I'd actually recommend watching the commentary first, as some of the outtakes and behind the scenes footage discussed will make more sense - I was wondering about the particularly shoddy looking dummy used in the sniper sequence myself. The doc isn't quite as great as Rob Zombie's Devil's Rejects doc, but is well paced, and covers most of the bases.
Disc two continues with a selection of deleted scenes. These were all very obviously deleted for pacing reasons, though none of them are moot or boring. There is a lengthy addition to one of the more suspenseful scenes, that reveals a bit more about the killer's motus operandi and homestead, but contains quite a few cheap scares, and would’ve slowed the pace considerably. The film was apparently very much improvised while filming, and during the commentary the director makes mention of a great deal more deleted footage, which is not included.
The features are rounded out with a semi-irrelevant interview with John Jarret, who plays the homicidal killer, original trailers and TV spot, trailers for addition horror/thrillers (including Haute Tension, under the British moniker Switchblade Romance), and a short scene from that other wolf titled movie, Cry_Wolf, which frankly, looks like over stylized garbage. The only extra I might have wanted added to the set would be some kind of information on the real life murderer that was the basis of the killer. I can understand that this may have been a bit on the controversial side, but I am honestly interested.
Wolf Creek is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake wishes it could've been. The film runs on the high-octane mix of camera work, editing, and thorough characterizations of believable characters. It isn't the most original film out there, but it's a damn site more exciting than anything to ever come out of Michael Bay (oh, you read that right Tom). This two-disc set is magnificent, with an amazingly crisp transfer and some ace special features. Highly recommended, especially to those that enjoyed Alex Aja's Haute Tension and Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects. It's a good time to be a horror fan.
You can purchase this title from Xploitedcinema.com.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 16th January 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English. Dolby Surround English
Extras: Commentary with Director Greg McLean, Producer Matt Hearn And Cast Members Cassandra Magrath And Kestie Morassi, Behind The Scenes Footage, Meet Mick Taylor An Interview With John Jarratt, Deleted Scenes, Trailer, Teaser, Other Release Trailers, Cry_Wolf Scene
Easter Egg: No
Director: Greg McLean
Cast: John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips
Length: 99 minutes
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