Sunday, January 15, 2006

Wolf Creek (2005)

I appreciate any attempt to make a grim and gruesome horror film (violence is always most effective when treated seriously), but this Australian film falls short of success. Granted, it's not the film's fault that films like The Devil's Rejects and Land of the Dead have set the horror bar pretty high lately, but even without those films this grimy thing would feel superfluous. The "true story" angle that's been used as a selling point is eventually revealed as disingenous hucksterism, but that's relatively unimportant. What truly matters here (and what kills the film) is the anti-drama at its core. It's the Texas Chainsaw Massacre formula distilled down to its reductive essence. The plot unfolds like "kids get lost, some kids die, movie ends," and it's up to director Greg McLean to invest this with some kind of urgency; sadly, he never does. He's too busy filming scenery for his villain to chew up and making sure everything looks as perfectly composed as possible (even the "rough" shots feel studiously so) to bother creating any sort of tension. The hammy villainy of the outback killer feels too mythic and outsized for a small-scale grindhouse homage like this -- Rob Zombie can get away with it because he ratchets up the hyperbolic aspects of his films from the first frame, but John Jarratt's big nasty feels like a refugee from some other, more vicious film, thanks to McLean's adherence to low-key realism. Ultimately, I go to films like this to feel unsafe and unnerved. Horror cinema, at its basest level, is a cathartic way for us to face up to our darkest impulses and maybe understand them a little better. The fact that this film made me feel nothing other than an aesthetic appreciation for the cinematography is probably far more irresponsible than a film that could inspire either love or hatred.

Grade: C


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