Something occurred to me while I watched this, the second instalment of director Greg Mclean’s juggernaut that was the original Wolf Creek – I Love Australian horror and the reason is the characterisation. Unlike American horrors (and to a far lesser extent, British and European horrors) Australian horrors are inhabited by real people who you actually like and therefore once the horror arrives, it brings with it a healthy dose of sadness and dread.
This is the most effective weapon in the horror film’s arsenal in my opinion – the horror has a far deeper impact and more resounding after effects when you genuinely want the protagonists to survive.
This trend in Australian horror continues here but is not to the same extent as the original film and is just one of the many ways this sequel pales in comparison, quality film though it is.
The first scene is an exercise in upping the stakes and a complete and immediate departure from the first film’s slow build. We are instantly plunged into the world of Mick Taylor (John Jarrett) – in this film given a clearer motivation for his psychopathic tendencies. After this initial electrifying scene we are introduced to a nubile, fresh-faced German couple so in love and carefree that you know things cant end well for them. To the film’s credit they are lovely people for whom you wish a future, futile as that wish clearly is.
Shortly after we hop into a jeep with British traveller Paul (Ryan Corr, sporting an exceptionally believable accent) and his is the story we follow from then on. How his interactions happen with Mick are one of the film’s strengths, the bantering and manipulations in the extended final sequence (not a spoiler btw) are the best and most agonising scenes of the entire movie. Mick is still an intriguingly vile character now given a racist angle to hone his motivations (though in the first film he ‘captured’ and Aussie???), with John Jarratt perfecting the cocked-head, blank-eyed stare that tells you he’s unhappy with something you just did/said and is considering separating your spine with his ever present hunting knife.
The first film (in my list of favourite horror films of all time) had many strengths – it toyed with horror genre conventions with the survivor not being who you had thought, with that wonderful slow studied beginning to strongly establish characters you could champion and identify with, the exceptional acting by all concerned, its hard gritty edge and almost documentary feel, its masterclass in the building of dread and anticipation to the point where you are squirming in your chair, and how it played with sound and things implied to elevate fear mixed in with sharp bursts of extreme cruel violence.
Most of these admirable qualities were not in the sequel – the acting is still well above par with Corr an obvious stand out, but the dread is gone until the final act, the grittiness replaced with slick chase scenes, an amping of the number of victims, things implied are now obvious, Mick almost a caricature of his former terrifying self; and the most regrettable change for me is the loss of the atmospheric sound from the first film replaced with almost humorous music choices that mock the suffering of the victims in a way that was bordering on offensive.
Having said that I did actually like this film – the numerous set pieces were effective, the end sequence hand-wringingly tense, the direction and cinematography truly capturing the desolation and beauty of Australia and the racist angle an inspired choice considering our seeming national obsession with ‘introduced’ vs ‘native’ – an interesting comment on how far that attitude could take us.
If this was a stand alone film it would have scored higher for me and maybe its unfair to compare it to a film that I think of so highly, but the sequel situation invites such comparisons.
And next to the original, this is not a knife.