Wolf Creek: The unsettling and stomach-churning Aussie nightmare hits Netflix

Wolf Creek (R18, 104mins) Directed by Greg McLean ***

Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) are on the trip of a lifetime.

Hooking up with adventurous Sydneysider Ben (Nathan Phillips), the young English backpackers are exploring the vast expanses of Australia. A highlight of their journey is a pilgrimage to Wolf Creek, Western Australia, home to a magnificent meteorite crater.

With all the locals, including the flies, being so friendly, the trio are in high spirits when they arrive at their isolated destination. But after an enjoyable walkabout, the day appears ruined when their car won’t start. Luckily help is at hand in the form of pest exterminator Mick (John Jarratt), a classic Aussie bushman who offers to tow them to his camps where he plans to “fix their wagon”.

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According to publicity which surrounded Wolf Creek on its original release in 2006, 30,000 people are reported missing in Australia each year. While 90 per cent are found within a month, some are never heard from again. The movie also claims that this is based on actual events. Well, although it was inspired by the Ivan Milat and Bradley Murdoch cases, this is about as factual as The Exorcist.

Despite its looseness with the truth, Wolf Creek’s commitment to authenticity is very impressive. Working on a small budget and making great use of hand-held cameras and “natural” lighting (like campfires and car headlights), writer-director McLean has crafted a creepy and convincing horror that is calculated to keep the audience’s tension levels high.

Financed by the South Australian Film Corporation, Wolf Creek's denigration of Western Australia as a tourist destination could be viewed as a novel, sneaky and quite brilliant way to get backpackers to visit Adelaide instead.

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Financed by the South Australian Film Corporation, Wolf Creek’s denigration of Western Australia as a tourist destination could be viewed as a novel, sneaky and quite brilliant way to get backpackers to visit Adelaide instead.

Reminiscent of New Zealand’s own “rural” nasties Snakeskin and The Locals, Wolf Creek also makes great capital out of Australia’s vast landscapes and bleached, barren backdrops, contrasting them with intimate, close-quarter shots of our trio’s predicament.

Let’s make no bones about it though – about 50 minutes in, the movie changes gears and becomes one of the most unsettling and stomach-churning films of the 21st century so far. And generic (right down to the maiming du jour of the mid-noughties – finger chopping) as it may be, at least we have been given a chance to warm to the characters and care about their fate. Like The Blair Witch Projectcasting relatively unknown actors is a masterstroke.

John Jarratt created Australia's answer to Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger in Wolf Creek.

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John Jarratt created Australia’s answer to Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger in Wolf Creek.

McLean also cleverly reverses Australian outback cliches (right down to a classic homage to Crocodile Dundee) and actually manages to keep the audience guessing as to who will survive this nightmare.

Nominated for seven AFI Awards, the film was financed by the South Australian Film Corporation. I guess this denigration of Western Australia as a tourist destination was a novel, sneaky and quite brilliant way to get backpackers to visit Adelaide.

Wolf Creek is now available to stream on Netflix.

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