Wolf Creek (Greg McLean). 99 minutes. Opens Sunday (December 25). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Wolf Creek won't make many friends over at Tourism Australia. While it introduces Aussie Greg McLean as a new voice in horror films (the first-timer's pic was sold at Sundance for $3.5 million), it's not going to entice many tourists to rough it in the Outback.
Apparently inspired by true events, the film tracks three attractive, 20-something backpackers - Sydney boy Ben ( Nathan Phillips ) and Brits Kristy ( Kestie Morassi ) and Liz ( Cassandra Magrath ) - as they drive a rickety used car to Wolf Creek, site of a meteor crash years earlier.
McLean spends the first half-hour building our interest in the trio while they party and then flirt with each other during the long, dusty trip. A pitstop at a gas station populated by a few Outback hicks adds some sinister notes.
But that's nothing compared to what happens when their watches stop, their car won't start and they're stranded at night. Enter a seemingly helpful and yakkety trucker ( John Jarratt ) who offers to tow their car to his isolated home. Bad idea, kids.
What makes the film so chilling is its pace and mood. You keep waiting for it to switch gears into horror, and when it finally happens the nightmare never lets up. There's gore galore.
McLean gets maximum effect from his isolated setting. Who's going to rescue you in a place where cars rarely travel? And by building up his characters in the first half, McLean makes their descent into screaming, shivering victims more involving.
Involving but distasteful. Jarratt's a pretty loathsome sadistic killer, and at some point in the escalating carnage you just turn off. Wolf Creek's a handsome but grim shocker whose sole message seems to be don't accept rides from strangers.