Back in 2005, writer-director Greg Mclean cracked open the Australian outback as a place perfect for a predatory serial killer with an obsessive hatred of tourists. With Wolf Creek, he took some tendrils of true and tragic stories of missing persons, and spun a tale of torture and murder so twisted that is was impossible to shake. Now he's returned with Wolf Creek 2, a sequel that aims to expand on the malevolent mythos of the horror franchise's villain Mick Taylor, but offers little in the way of new thrills.
I still vividly remember moments of Wolf Creek, which I watched in a huddle of friends trembling together on a futon in its crude couch position. I also remember how the fear the film stirred in me followed me on the long walk back to my own home.
Set in Wolf Creek National Park, my friends and I suspected we were in for some brand of extraterrestrial terror because of some red herrings early on. Then we were introduced to the dynamic and terrible Mick Taylor, a mix of three Australian icons. He's got a dash of Crocodile Dundee's folksy charm--not to mention his first name. Add to that Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin's passionate distaste for imported feral pigs, but expand that to a hatred of foreign-born people as well. Then, add to that the M.O. of convicted serial killer Ivan Milat, who is believed to have murdered a string of backpacking tourists in the 1990s.
With a chilling mix of menace and playfulness, actor John Jarratt brings all these influences together to create a truly gruesome yet engaging villain. In Wolf Creek 2, Mick Taylor is once more on the hunt for "pigs," turning random tourists into squealing, bleeding masses of flesh. It's horrific, involving casual threats of rape, over-the-top revenge, dismemberment, and ultimately a grim tour through Mick's own personal house of horrors. Audiences that cheered over the Saw and Hostel franchises will have new reason to rejoice, but personally, Mick's latest adventure did nothing for me except make me feel sick.
Wolf Creek 2 is a deeply disturbing movie, mostly because it doesn't seem to know who it wants its audience to side with. Are we to root for Mick's prey to survive? Or are we to relish along with him in the torment he inflicts on others? I'm genuinely unsure. Initially I had thought we were being set up to think of Mick as a twisted folk hero, as his first scene is being hassled by some power-hungry cops who pulled him over without proper cause. They are jerks who humiliate him, and he's all smiles and apologies. But of course they won't get off that easy. Mick uses the tools from the first film--his truck, gun, and knife--to exact a nightmarish revenge. And this is just a bloody preview to the gore in store, he assures us with a smile and a hero's walk off into the sunset.
Repeatedly, Mick is treated to Western iconography, like some cowboy of the Outback with his gun, wide-brim hat, and even a horse! But the brutality Mick inflicts is too gruesome to enjoy him as the film's hero or even anti-hero. Unfortunately, we're offered little else.
His next targets are a pair of German backpackers, who get only the most perfunctory and clichéd character development before Mick's arrival makes them little more than scream soundboards. When an English tourist crosses their path, he gets ensnared in Mick's homicidal brand of nationalism, and seems to take over the role of the one we're meant to root for. But once again, his introduction is so rushed, it's hard to feel terribly attached to him. Mostly, all my empathy was purely based on the physical pain the characters were experiencing under Mick's attention, not for any emotional connection or sense of relating.
Because of this disconnect, I found Wolf Creek 2 dull despite all its ardent blood and shock tactics. The severed storyline that leaps from one victim to the next didn't help in pulling me in. But to Mclean's credit he finally digs into something richly horrible when Mick takes one of these poor visitors into the bowels of his secret lair. Before it spins out into a ghoulish and sprawling display of Mick's murderous depravity, Jarratt shares a scene with Ryan Corr that is gut-churningly tense and traumatizing. Mick offers this tourist a way out by means of a high stakes quiz. I'll explain nothing more specific, so as not to ruin the scene. But allow me to say: in this intimate and claustrophobic setting, Mick is at his most fascinating and frightening. I made me wish more of the movie had this kind of focus, rather than tedious chase scenes around the Outback.
Ultimately, Wolf Creek 2 doesn't hold a candle to the first film and so fails its most compelling character. Mick is a villain who is at once repulsive and riveting. I had been excited to see where else his story might go, but was frustrated to find that most of this journey is a retread, from the victims to the method of violence, to the dissatisfying tie-in to its "true events" inspiration. However, in the movie's third act, Mclean and Jarratt hit on something interesting and unnerving. I was never actually scared watching Wolf Creek 2, but at least its climax seriously freaked me out.