Saturday, February 18, 2012

WOLF CREEK- mature horror

WOLF CREEK (2005) seems to me to be a superior ‘horror’ film because it is well written and intelligently directed. Many films of this genre buckle to the predictable formula that sees ‘horror’ surface in the first 5 minutes of the film. Filmmakers want to seduce audiences early and are perhaps too uncertain to make the audience wait. In Wolf Creek, the film is already half over before any real tension has surfaced.

There are many interesting contrasts in the script. It begins in a wonderfully relaxed mood. The beach, at Broome in WA, looks magical, and the unfortunate backpackers in the story seem to relish it. The two lead women, Liz and Kristy, are English, after all. The only Australian and only male of the trio, Ben, seems to be a genuinely lovely guy. It is true that he is hedonistic and far too cocky, but he is young and carefree and having the time of his life. His attitude, it seems, is that he lives in some sort of Paradise, and it is doubtful that anything could ever really go wrong. It turns out that he, and the two English women, are naïve in the extreme. They don’t really know Australia at all- certainly not the outback at least, with its thousands of lonely miles where it is unusual to see cars on the road, let alone people. It is the vastness and the isolation that will end up making them vulnerable, however in the first half of the film they drive closer and closer toward an unhinged and malevolent maniac who takes full advantage of their sweetness and their trust and their naivety.

One wonders if, when making the film, John Jarratt’s evil character placed a dampener on the trio’s sense of fun. It is only a film after all, that is true, but this situation isn’t farfetched. An equally memorable villain, played by Ben Kingsley, in the film ‘Sexy Beast’, created a lot of tension on the set when he was introduced into the film a good half hour after it started. So here are the trio, sitting in their car that ‘coincidentally’ won’t restart, and the seemingly good Samaritan, John Jarratt saunters up in dark with torchlight, ironically announcing ‘You scared the shit out of me!’ After a meal and a night’s sleep and some general fireside hilarity, that’s when the evil starts. The backpackers could not have been more vulnerable. The wonderful, warm vistas of Broome beach have given way to a murky and unsettling place of broken down cars, drums, corrugated iron, guns, rope, and various other junk which makes up the compound of the crazed killer.

One of the cleverest aspects of the script for Wolf Creek is the way in which the audience are given plenty of time to get to know and warm towards the backpackers. Ben sings corny serenades in the car on his guitar. Kristy and Liz kid around often but also sit quietly and have the authentic solemn look of trying to enjoy themselves despite the absence of creature comforts, like fresh clothes, warm showers and sheets and usable mobile phones. One of the most touching scenes in the film is when Ben finds Liz on her own sitting by some rocks, and awkwardly and bashfully kisses her. Afterwards they both laugh like gawky adolescents. It is great to see some moments of real charm in a film of this genre, and besides just one small tense moment that occurs in Emu Creek ten minutes earlier, Wolf Creek is almost half an hour old at this point and it looks for all the world like a rollicking road movie, a tame version of Thelma and Louise. We are enjoying the innocence and playfulness of Ben, Kristy and Liz. When unspeakable horrors occur to them later, we are therefore genuinely moved and shocked.

I’ve come back to Wolf Creek a few times since I saw it the first time at the beginning of January. It continues to grow on more as a mature film. I hear that the famous US film critic, Roger Ebert, walked out on it. We share a love for Mike Leigh and Paul Cox- but not, it seems, for Wolf Creek.

No comments: