It’s been eight years since Australian director Greg McLean dropped his debut film on unsuspecting critics and audiences, taking them completely by surprise. ‘Wolf Creek’, a nail-biting horror classic set in the Australian outback, took some of the most tired tropes of horror cinema (group of teenagers lost in the wilderness terrorised by a madman) and made them fresh again with its cinematic scope, its gritty realism and an incredible antagonist in Mick Taylor (John Jarrett), the Aussie Bloke Gone Insane. It was short, brutal and unrelenting, and now (as seems to be the case with every horror success these days) has a sequel. But while ‘Wolf Creek 2’ might sound unnecessary, the film itself turns out to be something very rare - a horror sequel that actually works.
Mick Taylor is still at large, helped by the fact the authorities don’t seem to believe he exists. An unlucky group of German tourists (Shannon Ashlyn and Phillipe Klaus) camping near Wolf Creek Crater come into contact with the psychopath with predictably horrific results, but when young British tourist Paul (Ryan Corr) gets in the way of Mick and his toys, a terrifying chase across the Outback begins, cat pursuing mouse without mercy.
While the premise of ‘Wolf Creek 2’ is relatively straightforward, the craft behind this film is far from it. Rather than rehash everything that made the original so memorable, McLean and co-writer Aaron Sterns have crafted a very different beast; a bigger and bolder film that heads in a very different, very exciting direction. If ‘Wolf Creek’ was intimate and gritty, ‘Wolf Creek 2’ is large and operatic. McLean accepts the audience’s familiarity with the monster, so rather than holding him back for half the film again, he opens the film with Mick and keeps him ever-present. This nightmare trip is broader, funnier and more playful, not just in Mick’s antics but in the visual flair of the film. Toby Oliver’s cinematography bursts with cinematic bombast, leaving hand-held realism mostly behind in favour of clever angles and camera tricks, all with the support of Sean Lahiff’s excellent editing. The build in tension from moment-to-moment is palpable, but the difference is we know what’s coming, and that’s used beautifully to the film’s advantage.
SWITCH: 'WOLF CREEK 2' TRAILER
These films essentially boil down to the conflict between the Australian landscape (its geography, inhabitants and culture) and the intrusion of foreigners, one of the more fascinating ideas explored some of the great Australian films. There were flashes of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (1975) and ‘Wake in Fright’ (1971) in the first film, but these influences become even grander and clearer in the sequel, as if Mick were birthed from the landscape as an avenging angel against the foreign tourists he hunts with such relish. McLean pushes this point even further, filling the film with catchphrases and icons so inherently Australian, it’s almost sickening (wait for Mick’s announcement that he’s “keeping Australia beautiful”), but rather than being lame and ham-fisted, it adds to the operatic quality of the film. We don’t learn very much more about Mick Taylor, but his intentions have become clearer and this makes them all the more insane and terrifying. McLean has long been one of the more fascinating directors in this country, the genre equivalent to David Michod (‘Animal Kingdom’) and Justin Kurzel (‘Snowtown’), and here he demonstrates his immense talent with flair and virtuosity. His use of visuals and music in particular deliver some of the most iconic moments of the film (particularly a sequence involving a pack of kangaroos) and his fearlessness helps to elevate the film to anything but a tired re-tread of old ground. Much like the first, he presents horror tropes we’re familiar with, but gives them an energy and a kick that make them seem new again, in particular a phenomenal truck chase through the outback that ends in spectacular fashion. If anyone was in doubt of his talents before, they certainly won’t be now.
If ‘Wolf Creek’ was intimate and gritty, ‘Wolf Creek 2’ is large and operatic.
Once again, the cast is kept to a tight bunch, so we don’t have too many characters we have to connect to. The focus point of Mick’s terrorism is Paul, and it’s to Ryan Corr’s credit that we connect instantly with him and sympathise with him. Paul is literally thrust into the story with no warning, and instantly goes from innocent bystander to viciously pursued. Corr has the most trying job on the film, being beaten to a pulp and running endlessly from one nightmare to the next, but he never lets the ball drop and, in the end, is as worthy an opponent as Cassandra Magrath was in the first. And as for John Jarratt, he remains the great star of the film. In his hands, Mick is one hell of a horror icon, that perfect balance of humour and terror. He’s given license to have a lot more fun this time, and he seems to relish the chance to return to the character he helped create. There was the potential to have too much Mick in this film, but thanks to Jarrett, every moment he’s on screen is more than welcome.
In the final half hour, the film finally descends (literally) into full-blown horror with an absolutely gruesome final sequence that pulls the curtain back completely on the extent of Mick’s depravity. The momentum of this great sequence is hampered by a very sudden and unsatisfying conclusion, but it’s not enough to dampen what came before it. ‘Wolf Creek 2’ is, with much relief, a worthy sequel to a great film, with moments just as memorable as the first. This might be the start of a new franchise, but hopefully the same care and thought will be put into whatever comes next. If anything, it’s a reminder that we are capable of great genre filmmaking in this country, and that rather than dismissing it we should embrace it, especially with artists like Greg McLean behind the camera. It’s what great horror should be - ballsy, terrifying and wickedly fun.