Set in the Australian outback, and tapping into contemporary fears about feral killers who prey on vulnerable tourists, Greg McLean’s gut-wrenching, nerve-shredding debut feature boasts some nightmarish scenes of human cruelty. Yet we never for a moment doubt his integrity or motives, still less his control over the medium. Shot on digital video by a filmmaker with a background in painting and theatre, it fuses beautifully textured images with fierce, intense performances and a jarring soundtrack to create a shattering vision of primal terror. Like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, McLean’s film has a brutally effective two-act structure. The build-up is deceptively slow, then the ground is ripped from under us and we freefall into a savage world of chases, torture and death. Aussie Ben (Nathan Phillips) and two British tourists, Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi), set out for Wolf Creek, where a vast crater has been left by a meteor impact. Having explored the crater, they find their watches have stopped and their car won’t start. As night falls, they are rescued by Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), a grizzled Crocodile Dundee type who tows their car to a remote, abandoned mining site. Over a campfire meal, the group swap edgy anecdotal banter. Next morning, Liz awakes bound and gagged. And then the screaming starts. This radical shift of tone and point of view is so disorientating that it throws us completely off balance, and we never recover our equilibrium. The film takes to extremes the distressing empathy we feel at the sight of someone being hunted and tortured. The violence is flat, ugly and remorseless, our sense of powerlessness overwhelming. Compare this to Austrian intellectual Michael Haneke’s overly self-conscious ‘Funny Games’, which lectured us about the seductiveness of screen violence. By making us feel the pain, Greg McLean’s ferocious, taboo-breaking film tells us so much more about how and why we watch horror movies.
Friday September 16 2005
Cast and crew