Monday, July 28, 2014

You Call That a Kangaroo? THIS Is a Kangaroo

It hardly seems like a full decade has passed since the success of a little movie called Saw signaled a change in theatrical horror. After the latter half of the '90s brought us mostly disappointing Scream knockoffs starring pretty WB Network twentysomethings who never met an R they couldn't PG-13, a new generation of filmgoers eagerly welcomed James Wan and Leigh Whannell's more mean-spirited (and far more blood covered) indie hit.

What this meant for the rest of the industry was that uncompromisingly gruesome violence was the new self-aware slasher. Like it or loathe it, the term 'torture porn' became shockingly household, especially after the success of Eli Roth's meta(ish) Hostel.

Filmed in Australia and loosely based on recent events, Greg McLean's Wolf Creek was quickly targeted by critics (the late great Roger Ebert and David Edelstein among them) as the epitome of this new and cruel subgenre. The fact that it had its wide release opening day on Christmas in the U.S. didn't help matters. Whether or not Wolf Creek fits the much debated categorization of torture porn, it's still hard to argue that it was one of the more brutal representatives.

Also, as some would say, one of its best.

Wolf Creek wasn’t a game changer, but the film was well-made enough to catch many a horror fan’s attention. Some eight years later, McLean apparently found some inspiration to pick up where he left off.

Quick Plot: A pair of jerky highway cops pull over a junky truck going decidedly under the speed limit. While their ticket-happy attitudes aren’t that admirable, they don’t quite warrant being shot in the head and/or burned alive.

Ah, the outback.

Mick Taylor is back in action, luring tourists to their extremely painful rape and death. We meet a pair of attractive young German backpackers who seem primed for the next 90 minutes of our time, only to instead (MILD SPOILER) bow out early and make way for Paul, a British university student who sort of resembles a Shia Labeouf with more presumed respect for musical theater.

Essentially, what we have here is Wolf Creek...again. Only this time, there are CGI kangaroos.

In 2005, Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek was a refreshing entry into the horror scene. Sure, it stuck to fairly well-explored territory (attractive young people lured to their horrible deaths by an extremely powerful and charismatic sadist) but its execution was sharp enough that the film rose above its (if you want to say it) 'torture porn' brethren. McLean took his time skillfully building up his characters with nearly an hour's worth of seemingly mundane plotting, making it all the more jarring when they found themselves cowering at the hands of the outstandingly terrifying John Jarratt. There were minor twists on the typical slasher formula (the order of deaths, for example, violating what 40 years of genre cinema has standardized) to keep you guessing, along with the beautifully open and mysterious character that was the Australian outback.

I don't know what I wanted from a film called Wolf Creek 2, but I'm pretty sure what McLean made will be, for some, everything they hoped for. Jarratt's back with even more screen time to chew and spit out, this time leaning a little more towards latter day Freddy Krueger spouting wisecracks and puns as he destroys his prey. We are once again treated to some bait 'n switch victims, with plenty of innocent bystanders taking the brunt. Mick Taylor continues his personal war on tourism and reveals, probably to the glee to many, his Martyrs-like underground lair complete with an entire city's worth of tortured souls.

For me, this was far less exciting than it sounds.

McLean is, let it not be argued, good at making movies. He shoots his outback setting with admirable grandeur and terror, and paces his action in a way that feels quick but not rushed. It's just that for me, Wolf Creek 2 was just not a tale that I could invest in. I'd seen it before, just without the CGI kangaroos.

I could probably have gone on living without the CGI kangaroos.

High Points
Much like the first Wolf Creek, this film’s eagerness to keep you guessing about the identity of your final girl keeps the action interesting

Low Points
I normally love John Jarratt and thought his Mick Taylor was something truly special in Wolf Creek, but here, he just feels a little too much of a wisecracking jokester. Sure, he’s still doing terribly violent things to innocent people, but how many corpses laying around an endless dungeon can you pass by before it just feels like overkill?

Lessons Learned
Australian cops are also offended by the term 'pig'

Know your Australian folk songs. Love your Australian folk songs.

First rule of the outback: never ever stop

The second rule of the outback: never go there

If you loved Wolf Creek, there is little reason you won’t find some enjoyment from Wolf Creek 2. If you liked Wolf Creek and were hoping to see something new, well, CGI kangaroos are, I guess, new. The film left me rather cold, but it's hard to argue with McLean's skill behind the camera. I’d much rather see him explore new territory with his next film, but as horror sequels go, one generally expects much worse.


  1. I loathed Saw and Hostel, primarily for pulling their punches but thriving on the hype. Wolf Creek was much more mean and bleak in comparison I think... up there with Martyrs.
    Still, I haven't been hot to see this sequel... expecting much as you describe. Not bad... but kind of dragging the first one around for sloppy seconds. The tunnels of torture sound a bit too Rob Zombie carnival sideshow for the sort of dusty grit that went before. Not that I dislike a good bit of Rob Zombie carnival...

  2. You know, the torture tunnels WERE very Zombie-esque. I know the first film originally had more of Mick's lair before edits, so I get why McLean would want to throw that stuff back in. It just feels lazy. I didn't think of it til now, but suddenly The Collector sequel came into my head and man, that film worked so hard to take its original (fairly humdrum) premise and turn the new film into something really neat. You had the same villain but everything was bigger, crazier, and funnier. I feel like McLean took the same approach, but it just left me so cold.

  3. I really didn't care for the original which I honestly felt took things a little too far, so can't really say I rushing out to watch this one and will no doubt stumble on it at some later point.

    McLean certainly has talent as "Rouge" showed I just hope that he doesn't get trapped into making these kinds of movies just because they prove more successful.

  4. If you felt the excess was a problem in the first Wolf Creek, then I think it's safe to say that you'll hate this one!

    I still haven't watched Rogue. Need to remedy that. McLean has a lot of talent behind the camera, and I too would just like to see him use it for more challenging projects.

    1. Unquestionably you should watch Rogue then, especially as its one of the few giant creature movies to manage to capture that same tension the first two "Jaws" movies had, especially as it has quite a few surprise moments.