Tagged Greg McLean

The Darkness is Bland and Forgettable Supernatural Horror

The Darkness. 2016. Directed by Greg McLean. Screenplay by Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, & McLean.
Starring Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, David Mazouz, Lucy Fry, Jennifer Morrison, Ming-Na Wen, Matt Walsh, Tara Lynne Barr, Paul Reiser, Ilza Rosario, Parker Mack, Krista Marie Yu, Trian Long Smith, & Judith McConnell. Blumhouse Productions/Chapter One Films.
Rated PG-13. 92 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
POSTER
I’ve been a fan of Greg McLean ever since first seeing Wolf Creek. His whole anthology of work concerning that film, its sequel, the recent series, is enjoyable. Better than just its slasher horror sub-genre skin suggests, that catalogue of tales (a third film is on the way) concerning deranged Australian madman Mick Taylor is both exciting and frightening. His 2007 killer crocodile flick Rogue, also starring Radha Mitchell, is a decent bit of fun. So naturally, I’m always intrigued to see what he chooses next. With a couple other pictures just about in the bag, if not completely so, McLean dips into The Darkness, which is as far from those more reality driven horror movies as you can get.
Starring Mitchell and Kevin Bacon, The Darkness is a supernatural horror-thriller about a family that comes home from a vacation at the Grand Canyon toting something other than family members and luggage. This one got savaged by critics, so it seems. I understand there’s a certain amount of cheesiness at times. I have to say, though, there’s a palpable air of dread and fear that builds up a long time. All the parts never add up to anything more than a lump sum. I don’t personally find this a terrible horror. Certainly won’t say it’s anything more than okay, but likewise I can’t turn around and say it’s complete trash. The last 40 minutes aren’t near as good as they ought to have turned out, so the initial strong first half hour of the film builds things up and then never make it to higher ground, never capitalizing on all the effort. Sadly, McLean did all he can as director. Most of the problems lie in the script itself, as the actors generally carry the material to the best of their abilities.
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I love the entire opening sequence out in the Grand Canyon, then following the family on their way home from the vacation. That’s a strong way to start out, as there’s a whole lot of things happening. First of all you’ve got the young Michael (David Mazouz), an autistic boy, falling into a sort of hidden cave, finding strange stones, likely Native American oriented with markings on them. Then his mother Bronny (Radha Mitchell) is an alcoholic, we get a slight sense of that, as well as the fact she suspects her husband Peter (Kevin Bacon) of being unfaithful, which is only further exacerbated in the upcoming few scenes after their arrival home. But that beginning 10 minutes is impressive, setting the tone for everything that follows. Later on, daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) reveals to us her bulimia and this makes the entire pile of family issues more intense. In between all that is the supernatural force that won’t let go since their vacation in the desert, since Michael disturbed that cave and its relics.
To my mind I’m not sure exactly what’s the biggest problem people have with The Darkness. Not saying this movie reinvents the wheel on supernatural horror. Doesn’t need to be revolutionary to be eerie good fun. One big element to the screenplay I enjoy is the family dynamic. The spirit clinging to the family exploits all their worst issues, their biggest personal problems. Michael’s autism makes the spirit and its influence early on feel real and lulling the family into complacency, misdirecting them towards his mental condition. Unfortunately, there’s never any pay off. The film builds, it has all the interesting and heavy emotional weight available to play with, however, there’s nothing that makes it lift above mediocrity.
A large part of why The Darkness doesn’t work is because there’s nothing innovative at all about the ghostly, spirit element to the horror. Supernatural films are always a test for me, honestly. As a horror fanatic, the one sub-genre of which I’m always wary is the supernatural arena. There are some great classics – Poltergeist (by which this one is heavily influenced), The Exorcist, among others. Although these are the best examples, clearly. Through it all, McLean doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before, nor does it spin in a refreshing way to scare us. I found certain elements creepy, particularly early on. As the plot wears on there isn’t anything much other than hand prints, shadows and the like to hover in the background, over the sheets, blood on the walls. Nothing excitingly scary happens even when the finale rolls around.
The actors try their best. For the most part they do a nice job. Once the whole plot descends into the final twenty minutes their acting only falls along with the entire movie. The whole conclusion is cheesy, anti-climactic, and all around does nothing to make everything which came before it worth the ride. It’s really too bad. Even the young boy playing Michael does a decent job. Then there’s Lucy Fry, whom I enjoyed thoroughly in McLean’s Wolf Creek mini-series. Bacon and Mitchell are both decent, as well. They’re just all incapable of transcending the boring material of the script.
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There was potential in the ending for this movie to defy its own expectations, and that of the audience, too. Instead the script opts for a cheese-filled, maple syrup sappy end, and squanders the last of its potential. I don’t hate The Darkness. There were elements that work, early on I found myself enjoying the dreadful atmosphere and the tone of what was to come. In a tragic twist of poor writing, the movie drops off quickly, and then all but kills itself. If McLean and the writers could have managed to keep up what was happening in the first big sequence at the canyon, a little after when they went the family was headed home and things started to feel a bit chilling, this whole thing had a chance. Rather than that keep that up the screenplay falls into tired territory, offering nothing new and borrowing liberally from other sources, right up to the shoddy finish. Even how the last scene is cut, then the eerie music of the credits lead into a shot of the stones we saw from the cave, as if somehow imaging a world where this movie could drum up a sequel. I have to say, I don’t hate the movie, but I’m more than unimpressed with McLean having directed this outing. Not worth his talent, and he wasted a bunch of it here with middle of the road horror that can’t sustain itself. I’ll be busy waiting for the third Wolf Creek and his other projects, doubt I’ll ever watch this one again.

Wolf Creek – Episode 6: “Wolf Creek”

Stan’s Wolf Creek
Episode 6: “Wolf Creek
Directed by Greg McLean
Written by Felicity Packard

* For a review of Episode 5 “Rome”, click here.
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Finally we’ve come to a fitting mini-series finale directed by the one and only Greg McLean! Very excited to see how Wolf Creek‘s 6-episode arc finishes, as Eve (Lucy Fry) is right on the verge of her showdown with slick Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), Australian serial killer extraordinaire.
We start with Benjamin, a.k.a Jesus. He’s busy chopping up ‘roos. He’s definitely some kind of avid reader. Though it’s not always a good thing depending on what you read. Plus the fact he clearly loves alcohol a bit too much. But y’know, could be worse. I guess.
Then Eve shows up to ask about where the place in all his drawings is, where she might find the crater – Wolf Creek, as we know. After pouring out some of Jesus’ precious liquor Eve gets answers. He gives up the name, and now she’s really got her sights set on the ole Mick.
Love how McLean’s title comes up right under the park sign for Wolf Creek. Nice little touch.
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So we’re ready for a showdown now between Mick and his one victim that will not quit, Ms. Kick Ass Eve. I’m betting she meets a tragic end. Because who can have such luck against this psychopathic bushman?
And along the trail already Eve finds a nasty treat. This may only push her harder in her quest to avenge those who’ve fallen at the hands of Mick Taylor. She sits with the book of Mick’s crimes and gets a glimpse into his world. A disturbing look at his inner psyche.
Hill is alive at least. But in rough shape and at the hands of a serial killer. So alive is only relative. Mick has plenty of plans I’m sure.
The memories of Eve’s parents infiltrate every moment of her existence now. As she hurtles toward her confrontation with Mick there’s no telling how well her mental state is going to remain. She’s been strong so far, just never know. In the bush, she feeds herself by catching a nice rabbit. Even in the violence to nourish herself those images of her family dying flash fast behind her eyes.
Eve gets to Wolf Creek, only a few miles from the old Taylor place. She makes her way out there and plans carefully the next steps. Mick’s childhood home is like a junkyard, things everywhere in no particular order. Run down cars, bits of scrap here or there. Inside it is worse. The darkness swallows Eve just about whole, as she explores its dilapidated hallways and bedrooms. She even hears the memories of the walls oozing out into the present.
Then Mick comes in, almost undetected completely. Afterwards, Eve confronts him with the fact she knows why he kills – because of his sister and the tragic situation which came out of it. Well, ole Mick talks about his dear dad and all that nice stuff.
But now the hunt has broken out. Fast and hard. Eve soon finds Hill, or what’s left of him.
Mr. Taylor ends up with the upper hand. Furthermore, he offers Eve the choice: kill Hill quick, or Mick kills him nice and slow.
We come to discover Mick watched his sister die after pushing her over a hill. Then he let his father murder that man. Then he skinned him. Vile, right? That’s how the Outback serial killer was born. We’ve been given an inroad to his black heart.

 


So now, is Eve going to make her choice?
Mick makes it for her after she lunges at him. A belly full of blade for Hill has him gasping for life. At the same time, Mick slashes at his latest victim, but Hill manages to rip down a beam in the ceiling, crashing some boards and debris onto Mick. Of course that hasn’t put the ole boy out. Not yet.
He puts a knife right through Eve, in the chest, preventing her from running any longer. It’s a bad wound, too. Her lungs squeak and she slowly starts passing out. And she summons the strength to pin Mick to the wall with a whip of her spear. Two bad asses, head to head. She even taunts him right to his face: “This ones for my family,” she says before stabbing him in the guts hard. The next one’s for Hill, right in the chest.
The tables have officially turned. Or that’s how it looks.
Eve rushes to Hill, who barely hangs on. They celebrate, even if things are still rough. And bloody. After a few moments he passes: “Im so glad I met you,” he tells her.
With Mick pinned to the wall, Hill gone, Eve lights a match to the old Taylor shack. She even lays to rest with it all the book of memories, that serial killer scrapbook. She stands to watch it burn a while. Have we truly seen the last of Mick Taylor? Seems that way.
Or does it?

 

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There’s no body left after the fire. Could he have burned away that fast? Possible, definitely. As for Hill, Eve leaves him under a tree, peaceful, beautiful, and gives him to the Outback’s wilderness.
Heading on the road again after all is said and done, Eve meets the woman who’d drove the perverts off back in the first episode or two. They ride off into the sunset, and everything moves on just fine.
Except on the wind you can still hear the slight echoes of Mick’s laugh rolling. And after some credits, his truck blows down the highway once more.

 

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An amazing series. Love how Eve survived and pushed through to the end instead of a cliched ending where Mick kills her and the cycle repeats. Still, Greg McLean and Co. leave it open for a Wolf Creek 3. I’d love to see Eve incorporated again because Lucy Fry was beyond impressive, a huge star on the rise now between this and her small role in 11.22.63. Also, I’d love more Mick, can’t lie. John Jarratt is incredible. This little series came off all around spectacular in my books.

Wolf Creek – Episode 4: “Opalville”

Stan’s Wolf Creek
Episode 4: “Opalville”
Directed by Tony Tilse
Written by Felicity Packard

* For a review of Episode 3 “Salt Lake”, click here.
* For a review of Episode 5 “Rome”, click here.
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Every time I hear that the “Who Killed Cock Robyn?” song it just sends a shiver up my spine. Perhaps never more than at the start of this episode particularly, as last we saw of Eve (Lucy Fry) she was broken down in the van it seemed, as Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) approached from behind.
And here we start.
Except it’s not Eve.
Mick knocked off the wrong white van. Not like it matters to him, though. Nice little fake-out by the writers. He makes a little mistake, Mr. Taylor. Trying to cover his tracks, he drops a shell casing on the trail. Tsk, tsk.
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Of most interest to me is Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare) and his wife. She tries to apologize for cheating on him, saying they need to try and make things work after everything’s been bad for so long. He momentarily agrees, but this is a massive blow to his ego, his marriage, his trust.
Meanwhile, Eve finally rolls through Opalville. Without getting her tires gunned down. In town, she tries tracking down her supposed “uncle” who shoots pigs in the area. No luck at first, though. So glad Eve hasn’t yet been caught by Mick, I thought it was torture time for her in this episode starting out. For the time being it’s just her and the dog, alone on the road trying to track Mick. All the scenery in this series has been unbelievable, getting to see so much more of the landscape in Australia amongst the Outback than what we were given in both the Wolf Creek films.
At a small home in the Outback, Eve finds a woman whose daughter went missing out there. She poses as a journalist researching Missing Persons cases out there. Rightfully, the mother is still distraught, as she’s the only person still concerned. What’s great here is that Eve isn’t actually deceiving this woman. Because she’s still trying to find justice for all the people killed. Just not by writing an article. Instead she wants to put an end to any further disappearances. In a bunker down below the woman’s house her husband stays submerged in a bunch of his own weirdness, obviously suffering from the loss of his daughter just doing it differently. He isn’t keen on talking about it any more. Reluctantly the talk comes out in bits, though we can also see how its all taken a toll on the married couple’s relationship.
The writing is spectacular overall in this mini-series. So many excellent aspects the writers are exploring which flow organically out of the whole original premise, Mick in the Outback killing people, those same people with families and loved ones left behind. The mini-series is capable, inherent in its length over the course of nearly six hours total, of expanding upon all types of stories. Lots of good choices by the writers so far.
And now even wilder, the man ends up beating his wife’s head off one of the walls in his bunker. Has he killed her? Either way, Eve runs off to try and get away. Nothing good will come of this. Seems there’s a lot of nasty business down in that bunker. Poor Eve, constantly having to run from psychopaths. A P.Y.T in the Outback with rednecks, never a good combination.Then there’s the snakes – one bites her. Tick, tock.
She manages to make it out and away from the bunker eventually, but that’s a couple tense minutes right there. Then she even slowly crashes the van into a dune.
This sequence is so well executed in directorial style. Stylized and tense and just downright creepy.

 


Lucky for Eve an older gentleman helped her out, patched her up and made sure she didn’t die from snake poison. She wakes at his camp to find him cooking. He sarcastically answers her when she asks how she got there. But this guy seems on the level, and for now she’s safe away from any of the mad bastards in the Outback. Later, the man even teaches her some bad ass shit like how to throw a javelin like a boss.
Hill gets closer to Eve all the time. He talks to Bernie, getting more information from the local source, and heads off in the direction of Eve’s last known destination: Opalville. I’m excited because the tension is drawn out in this mini-series quite well. All the plot threads are bound to converge at some point, and it’s anybody’s guess as to how that will actually happen. And what’ll come out of it. At the moment, that last bullet casing Mick left behind ends up in Hill’s hands.
When Eve gets back on the road she finds the woman from earlier still alive. Her husband’s dead now, thankfully. Best of all, Eve makes out with another vehicle and ditches off the white van. Gets her a bit of cover for a while.
Finally, Hill catches up with Eve at a roadside diner. He tries best he can to convince her into going with him. Then she gives chase, dog alongside. They head out into the desert wilderness. Soon she loses him by sneaking a ride in a bit of heavy equipment. Then gets out with her vehicle before Hill can do a damn thing. Clever, sneaky girl.
Eve plans to head to Rome, Australia, a place where Mick has hunted previously – “where all the animals come to drink,” she says.
Speaking of the Mick, he’s home drinking, beating on Bernie who’s found herself at the mercy of the terrifying serial killer. Sad to see a strong lady like her end up in his grasp, as so many others do. And heading right for Mick is Eve – in Rome, she gets a red dragon tattooed on her back, as perfect expression of her fiery power despite all odds.

 

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Each episode I’m impressed with how well this mini-series works its magic. Next episode is titled – you guessed it – “Rome” and I know there’ll be more terror ahead, especially after this episode’s events and revelations. Stay with me, folks. Mick and Eve each have a lot more in store for us in the final two episodes. I can almost taste it.

Wolf Creek – Episode 1: “Billabong”

Stan’s Wolf Creek
Episode 1: “Billabong”
Directed by Tony Tilse
Written by Peter Gawler

* For a review of Episode 2 “Kutyukutyu”, click here.
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Out into the Australian Outback again, as the horrific legacy of Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) never seems to come to an end.
An American family’s travelling through the desolate wild of Outback, preparing to make camp at nearby watering hole. The scenery’s idyllic. Animals everywhere, water for swimming, and a gorgeously warm day. Seems like paradise, no? We start to figure out that the daughter Eve (Lucy Fry) has had problems recently. Seems Eve is an athlete that, somewhere along the line, got addicted to painkillers.
Then we finally see Mick come out of the wilderness. He saves the young son Ross (Cameron Caulfield) from a croc in the water. When they all head back to the family’s camp, Eve and her mother talk a bit about things. But it is definitely clear the daughter isn’t interested in talking much.
Things get vicious after Mick suddenly kills the father. Then the mother. Then even little Ross. Only Eve remains unaware, laying inside their trailer with headphones on. A horrifying chase begins now, once Mick makes his way in to see her, and she rushes off past her mutilated family. This episode picks up INCREDIBLY. Such perfect pacing. Because I’d honestly expected more build up. However, Greg McLean and his trusty band of filmmakers have relied on people coming to this series as fans. So we know how Mick gets down. Might as well get right to it. And the fact he even killed a kid is astonishing. The mini-series gets off to a brutal start without any hesitations.
But Eve, she makes it away from the mad Australian bastard. And she fights to keep herself alive.
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Washing up onshore, some men in a boat find Eve. She’s a little worse for the wear, a bullet stuck inside her. But alive. Still, her whole family is dead and now she’s left there in a place completely foreign to her. A properly surreal sort of situation to find oneself in. Talking to the police sin’t easy, either. Everything points to murder-suicide, as the bullet lodged in her is the same calibre of the rifle her father had with him. Nevertheless, Even reveals everything she can remember about the man in the “blue truck” to Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare) leading the investigation.
So naturally what’s being setup is a showdown between Mick and Eve. Just as always, the serial killer will not be brought to justice. He’s been out there killing and killing and nothing’s poised to stop him. Except Eve. Can she do it? Or will this be a futile journey ending with her as just another notch on his belt?
Helps Eve that the police find the bodies disappeared from where the family camped. Now they know there’s more to her ordeal. The cops put her up in a motel for the time being. Meanwhile, Mick is off in his little hideaway drinking and doing what it is he does behind closed doors. What I love about this mini-series is that McLean is allowing us a further look beyond the mask of Mick Taylor, we’re getting more time with the character to start understanding his psyche a little better; we’ll never empathize, but just the fact we see more of his psychology will let us a little deeper into the character.
Further than the showdown between Eve and Mick, there’s also the police who’ve obviously suspected a serial killer prowling the Outback for some time now. Decades. All those tourists gone missing.

 

 


Eve believes she sees Mick’s truck, and ends up chasing it down on foot. In a nearby bar she sees someone that at first looks like him, but turns out to be just a guy wearing a similar hat. This lands her up in the hospital again after a fit. Sullivan’s there to greet her as she wakes. Clearly the psychosis is all from a bit of PTSD. Most of all, he worries she’s bent on vigilante justice, and that it won’t solve anything, nor is it guaranteed she’ll be able to do anything about it if she finds him anyway. “Good luck, safe home,” he tells her before leaving. Only her personal responsibility for even being there in Australia makes it hard for Eve to walk away.
Instead of flying home, Lucy sneaks into Hill’s office to try jacking some files. She makes off with them, but he’s not stupid. This sets up quite a cat and mouse chase between both Lucy and Mick, as well as Sullivan and Lucy. Lots of fun dynamics here.
More fun with Mick, too. He comes across a woman doing yoga on the side of the Outback highway. A hilarious little encounter, as Mick asks all about what she’s doing. This fast turns into a terrifying moment with Mick quipping: “Tell you whatIll stretch you out.”
In the episode’s final moments, Lucy has a makeshift memorial for her family. Then she promises them: “I will find him. And Ill make him pay.” So while Mick is dangerous and a vicious killer, he’s left unknowing that a victim of his is on the way towards him, full speed, ready for anything. The hunt and the heat are on.
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Excited to watch the next episode titled “Kutyukutyu”, which is sure to kick off the big tension and all the suspense. This series in its first episode contains nice writing, staples of the horror genre and what we expect after McLean’s Wolf Creek and Wolf Creek 2. Plus on top of everything else like the performances from Lucy Fry and the always eerie John Jarratt as Mick, the cinematography from Geoffrey Hall is spectacular, keeping us on the leven of cinema during this mini-series. Look forward to more.

Wolf Creek 2: More Mick, More Savagery

Wolf Creek 2. 2014. Directed by Greg McLean. Screenplay by McLean & Aaron Sterns.
Starring John Jarratt, Ryan Corr, Shannon Ashlyn, Philippe Klaus, Shane Connor, & Ben Gerrard. Duo Art Productions/Emu Creek Pictures.
Unrated. 106 minutes.
Action/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER The first Wolf Creek came as a surprise to me being both fully fictional, as well as at the same time being partly inspired by real life Australian serial killer Ivan Milat. With the original’s ending, the news of a sequel was not surprising. However, I worried going in that director-writer Greg McLean, this time joined in writing duties by Aaron Sterns, might simply rehash all the same elements. It’s easy for horror sequels to fall by the wayside, either not exciting enough to match its original or too much of the same thing, or any number of problems.
Wolf Creek 2 is a fun little sequel. Because whereas it does go through many similar motions as the first film, there’s also enough differences to make it fresh, to make it intriguing, and most of all it keeps the character of Mick Taylor going strong. Definitely slightly more gruesome than the original, too. So even if there are times you might find yourself feeling like McLean is beating a dead horse, wait a few seconds. Either the renewed brutality of killer Mick will hook you, or perhaps the plight of a new victim might do the trick.
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On the Australian highway, deep in the Outback, a young German couple are hitchhiking their way through the barren landscapes. When they get to the Wolf Creek National Park, the couple camp for the night. But later, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) shows up. He seems friendly, advising the couple they ought to get moving, as there’s no camping in the national park. Quickly one thing becomes another, and eventually Mick’s killing again.
Afterwards, one of them manages to get away. And in the process, a young British man named Paul Hammersmith (Ryan Corr) becomes entangled with the mad Aussie serial killer. When Mick gets Paul back to his isolated camp, he wants to play a game. So he begins asking Paul some trivia; 10 questions, 5 right answers, then Mick will let him go.
Only problem? Every wrong question Paul gets one of his fingers ground off down to the bone.
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Part of Wolf Creek 2 is very much a chase movie, or the first three quarters of the film is an extended chase sequence. What I enjoy most is that we start off immediately with Mick this time, as opposed to the first movie that stays with the eventual victims for a long time; which is great for that one. Here, we’re starting to delve further into Mick. There’s no massive exposition about his life or his character, but just starting off in his perspective, seeing what he’s up to, it pulls us into his world. Then there’s a shift, and we head to the German tourists. Finally, the lead protagonist Paul ends up in the mix after he sort of winds up in the middle of one of the Germans being hunted by Mick. A stroke of bad luck takes us from one set of characters to a new one. I love when screenplays can sort of psych us out that way, making you feel we’re about to spend a good deal of time with certain characters before pulling the rug out from under our feet. Impressively, McLean and Sterns also setup Paul’s character fairly quick, and that cuts down on any interruptions. The pacing stays tight, tense, and the story moves along without getting held up.
A majorly interesting bit in the film, which is the real meat of it and still doesn’t come until the last quarter, is when Mick has Paul back at his camp. The fact it’s Australia v. Britain here is super interesting, even more so when Mick asks questions for his game about when British convicts were first sent over to Australia, et cetera. You can really feel all the animosity Mick has towards the British. That’s clear right away when he constantly calls Paul a “Pommy cunt” and other variations of the word. But as the scene wears on, you can feel his hate of the British come out. When you parallel that with the way he talked to the German couple, it’s so evident he has got a beef. Perhaps, as a criminal and serial killer, he feels especially sensitive, as he would’ve been shipped over there had he been kicking around England at the time.
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John Jarratt will likely forever be remembered most for his portrayal of Mick Taylor. Simply because it’s a real transformation. You see Jarratt in interviews, special features, making-of featurettes, and he is this sort of quiet, subdued type of man. Then he’ll toss in his Mick laugh, and you can see such a contrast between who he is and where he has to take himself to play the role. He is charming at times, even when he’s busy psychotic. Above all, he is intimidating. He is a tough, powerful, evil man as Mick. Often times in slashers it’s either a masked villain, or someone whose identity is kept secret for a portion of the film. Here, and even in the first, he is out in the open, he is hunting, and there’s nowhere to hide from the guy. He commands your fear. One of my favourite moments in this sequel, which is also sort of funny at the same time, is when Paul makes off down the corridors of Mick’s tunnels, and Mick yells out “You Pommy cuuuuunt” and lingers hard on the last word. While it definitely makes me chuckle a little, it is simultaneously terrifying. The anger in him simmers below the surface almost constantly, and in moments like this it breaks out, almost shaking the frame. Without Jarratt, Wolf Creek and its sequel would be nothing. Wolf Creek 2 is as good as its predecessor, simply because Jarratt gives us more of the character, he lets us have more of the character and more of his horror; he is the horror.
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This is a pretty solid horror sequel; a 4-star bit of slasher cinema. There are many macabre bits to Wolf Creek 2 and though some say the first is more vicious, this one to me is far more brutal than the original. We get a deeper look at the camp of Mick Taylor, the tunnels below, the vast playground of terror where he operates. The first was properly chilling. This one ups the chill a few notches. And when the finale plays out, you won’t necessarily find yourself rolling your eyes like so many other sequels where the villain is stretched on and on, thin to the point of falling apart. No, instead you’ll be wondering what exactly Mick will bring in the inevitable Wolf Creek 3. I’m hoping the third, or the upcoming television mini-series, will dive into some prequel aspects to the story, as well as Mick himself. Being based on Ivan Milat fairly heavily, I’d like to think Greg McLean plans on examining some of what led to Mick as a character becoming as evil as he is now. Either way, this is a solid little flick and worth your time. Big bonus if you find Jarratt scarily entertaining as this bound to be classic horror villain.

Wolf Creek’s Roots and Serial Killer Aesthetic

Wolf Creek 2005. Directed & Written by Greg McLean.
Starring John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips, Gordon Poole, Guy O’Donnell, Phil Stevenson, Geoff Revell, Andy McPhee, Aaron Sterns, & Michael Moody. The Australian Film Finance Corporation & The South Australian Film Corporation/403 Productions.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
POSTER This movie is firmly planted in fiction. No doubt. Even so, Greg McLean’s lead antagonist in Wolf Creek is quite obviously modeled on one of Australia’s most notorious killers, Ivan Milat. Between 1989 and 1992, he tortured, sexually molested, and murdered seven backpackers, whose bodies were then dumped in the Belanglo Forest, which is south of Sydney. As a big fan of the psychology behind criminals, particularly serial killers, I read a fascinating book by Christopher Berry-Dee and Steven Morris called How to Make a Serial Killer. One of the cases they examine is Milat. The book takes a look at nature versus nurture, or rather Berry-Dee and Morris contend that it’s usually, more often than not, a combination of the two elements. The extensive chapter on Milat’s crimes is shocking, almost more so than McLean’s screenplay, which is god damn chilling, and rough in terms of horror. One of the best quotes is from a forensic psychiatrist named Dr. Rod Milton, he says that Ivan “enjoyed the power and the sexual gratification that he got from his victims. I think it was violence for the sake of violence in someone who enjoyed the explosion of violence.”
In Wolf Creek, none of the victims or even the killer gets named for their real life counterpart. Which is good because that takes a certain responsibility off of McLean to keep things completely real to Milat’s life, as well as preserves at least some respect for the victims of the actual horrors. Yet the stories are the same, and this one doesn’t shy away from being brutal, nasty even at times. The explosiveness of that violence in Milat is very present in our killer here. McLean manages to make what others will call ‘torture porn’ into something better, focusing more on the people the killer encounters than the killer himself. Although, sometimes that’s what holds this film back.
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One of the majorly scary parts about Wolf Creek for me is how Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) has all that isolation in the Outback. Just as Milat did. Essentially, he had miles and miles all as his own playground, to do what he wished with his victims. Worse than that he always did the Good Samaritan gig. Like when he encounters the guy and the two women partway through. So once people were out in the midst of nowhere, Milat did his thing with little to no fear of ever being noticed. Scarier still is his pathology as a serial killer. In the Berry-Dee/Morris book there’s another creepy quote that’s always in the back of my mind later on during the film when we see some of the atrocities in his little playground at home: “He would play with the corpses of his victims, posing them in positions that held some secret meaning for him & then secreting the bodies in places & in a manner that would signify something intensely personal to him.” As the corpses of some victims of Mick’s lay around in his garage, where he further tortures his latest victims, just look at how they’re strung up and arranged. Then think about that quote. Maybe there’s something more to it than a mutilated body being posed that way than only convenience, as every killer’s got their own horrifying little quirk that speak to their individual psychology.
Now this brings me to one of my only negative points about McLean’s writing. I do dig the fact we’re given so much time with the eventual victims before what happens in the second half of the film. Because more than some slashers where we get a little lead in before characters start getting axed, Wolf Creek really allows us the time to get to know these people. They feel genuine and real, so their plight is even more troubling. However, other than the killing we don’t get much of Mick. There’s a good little bit where he does the nice guy routine, luring them in, lulling them down to a sense of complacency before striking. But personally, having read about Milat, it would’ve done us good to get a little bit more insight on Mick as a character. Not saying there needs to be a prequel or that the movie needed an extra hour. Just that for a movie with such rich characters, its killer deserves more. Let’s face it, he is one of the major reasons this movie is actually scary. As unsettled as you are knowing something is eventually going to go bad, Jarratt makes Mick into something altogether appalling. The transition from nice to nasty is impressive, as some actors would have that kind of mean streak running through them the entire performance. Not Jarratt. He truly sells Mick’s whole helpful persona, being this foolish, silly kind of guy up until he’s not. With such a solid performer as Jarratt, it’s an even bigger shame the character doesn’t get fleshed out a little more. Still, that doesn’t change the fact Jarratt makes this killer into an intimidating figure.
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The look of the film is great. Everything looks and feels natural. Best of all, the scenery, the design of Mick’s Outback camp/house, is so spot on. And it doesn’t feel like they tried to replicate Leatherface’s house, as so many modern horrors tend to go when creating a lair for their villain. There’s no shortage of macabre delights at Mick’s place. It just isn’t a ridiculously overblown design. Everything is perfect in that regard. On top of that, all the principal photography for the movie was done handheld. This gives things an even more realistic flow and atmosphere. The lighting and everything makes some of the scenes, after things turn frightening, so wonderfully sinister. There’s always a grim and ominous atmosphere even from the start, as there always feels danger might be around any corner, but things definitely kick into gear later on with Mick doing his torture routine. McLean and cinematographer Will Gibson capture a lot of good stuff here. As opposed to a standard slasher we’re instead given something that comes off as much more close to life just by how it’s shot.
François Tétaz composed a score that pairs well with the horror. There are many moments where the only sounds we hear are those plied out by Mick from his victims. Then underneath, Tétaz plucks away with little woodwind sounds and cymbals, other tiny sounds, and that only intensifies those scenes where suspense is running high. A cheesy or shitty score can really detract from a good horror. In this case, it does the opposite. Tétaz draws us in with gorgeous pieces, as well as those small bits that augment what would be a simple torture scene in another film, but becomes something more interesting with McLean calling the shots. For me, the score is a big part of what separates this from other similar movies that focus on the hideous acts of serial killers, and it makes Wolf Creek even more unsettling at the right times.
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Not perfect, but Wolf Creek packs an indelible punch. There’s still terror each time I decide to put this one on. John Jarratt’s charmingly psychotic role is one of the highlights. Overall, though, Greg McLean has given us a pretty good modern horror. A realistic slasher, almost. Using the roots of Ivan Milat to ground the character of Mick Taylor in the real world, McLean presents us with unabashedly brutal horror, as he gives us insight into the terror of a serial killer’s victims. And as the film wears on, so does its haunting nature. This one stayed with me a while after simply because of its raw quality. Not everyone’s cup of tea surely. Yet this is one bit of horror that keeps me glued to the screen.