By Gary M. Kramer.
It has been nearly a decade since Wolf Creek (2005) provided a cautionary tale about backpacking through the outback. Now with Wolf Creek 2, the crazed killer of captives, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) returns. If this sequel—also based on actual events—is not as strong as the original, there are still some effective elements. Alas, they are few and far between. Wolf Creek 2 telegraphs most of its horror, with the shocks coming more from what director/co-writer Greg McLean shows on screen—e.g. two decapitations, a severed penis, and a kangaroo massacre. There is only one “boo” moment. And oddly, the torture porn scenes are hell to sit through not because they are grisly, but because the film is criminally boring.
The film opens with a prologue that re-introduces Mick as a man who is abiding by the speed limit only to get pulled over by two bored cops who want to stir up trouble. Viewers, of course, know that they are messing with the wrong man. After they cite him for various regulations, Mick retaliates and shoots the cop who is driving away, blowing his head literally half off. (The special effects here are pretty nifty as his exposed, blood-covered jaw just sits on his neck). The second officer lives for a while, until Mick dispatches him, twisting his broken leg, knifing him in the back, and then setting both him and his car on fire. It could be suggested that Mick’s punishment fits the crime for these corrupt cops, but as viewers of the first film know, the killer is a sadist. Cue opening credits.
Wolf Creek 2 may suggest from this violent prologue that this sequel will provide more of the same thrills for fans of the original, but McLean intends to tell a different story, despite an extended sequence involving Rutger (Philippe Klaus) and Katarina (Shannon Ashlyn) backpacking in the outback at Wolf Creek. This attractive couple is not on-screen for long, as they encounter Mick while camping overnight in the national park. He tries to gently coax them out and when they fail to bend to his wishes, he kills Rutger, and kidnaps Katarina.
McLean may think he is being ironically amusing as the song “I Fall to Pieces” plays on the soundtrack as Mick dismembers Rutger, paying tribute to the deceased’s penis, but such gags fail to lighten the film’s dark tone. It is during Mick’s slicing and dicing that Katrina is able to escape. She is thrilled to be rescued by Paul (Ryan Corr), a British student. Mick then chases the couple in a sequence that generates some mild tension, particularly when a pack of kangaroos try to cross the street as Paul’s car races away from Mick’s 18-wheeler in hot pursuit. Suffice it to say, the animals fare as poorly here as they did in the far superior Australian outback thriller Wake In Fright (1971). But one problem with this chase scene is that the characters are far more terrified than the viewer. The film rarely exhibits a palpable sense of dread that would keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Even the psychological horror aspects of the film are buried, exposed much later in the film. As these episodes unfold, Wolf Creek 2 reveals itself to be a kind of Chinese box that soon turns into a house of horrors populated with dozens of corpses. It is clear that very few victims survive.
To his credit, McLean does feature some nice aerial camerawork and upside-down point-of-view cinematography and some atmospheric lighting that help to establish Paul’s disorientation, which heightens when Mick eventually captures him…and then subjects him to some pretty scary stuff: a sing-a-long and a history quiz. The latter involves Paul losing a finger for every wrong answer. Mick also indicates that it is his xenophobia that prompts him to kidnap and/or kill tourists. And while there may be a moment of Paul experiencing Stockholm syndrome, this quickly and unfortunately passes.
Wolf Creek 2 would have been stronger if Mick had been nastier in his scenes with Paul. Jarratt obviously relishes his serial killer role, but he never quite reaches the heights (or is it depths?) of, say, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) in the Saw series, where the killer meted out punishment for moralistic reasons. Moreover, the extended episode of the captor and captive singing, playing trivia, and slicing off fingers seems to dilute the more menacing tone of the film as a whole. That said, Wolf Creek 2 ends on an unexpectedly canny note as McLean buries the lead with an interesting disclosure before the credits scroll. While it is perhaps meant as the ultimate sucker punch, it has the curious effect of prompting the audience to recalibrate what they have just seen.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.