Movie Discussion: Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek (2005)

  • Monthly Theme: Highbrow/Lowbrowwolf_creek
  • The Film: Wolf Creek
  • Country of origin: Australia
  • Date of Australian release: November 3, 2005
  • Date of U.S. release: December 25, 2005
  • Studio: The Australian Film Finance Corporation, et al.
  • Distributer: Dimension Films
  • Domestic Gross: $16.1 million
  • Budget: $1 million (estimated)
  • Directors: Greg McLean
  • Producers: George Adams, et al.
  • Screenwriter: Greg McLean
  • Adaptation? Not really. The film is loosely inspired  by the real-life Backpacker Murders and the Peter Falconio case.
  • Cinematography: Will Gibson
  • Make-Up/FX: Charmaine Connelly, et al.
  • Music: François Tétaz
  • Part of a series? There is a 2013 sequel entitled Wolf Creek 2.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Australian genre star John Jarratt (Dark Age, Picnic at Hanging Rock, etc.).
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: Best Actor [Jarratt] at the 2005 Austin Fantastic Fest. Best Score at the 2006 Australian Screen Music Awards.
  • Tagline: “30,000 are reported missing in Australia every year. Some are never seen again.”
  • The Lowdown: Sometime in 2009 Kristine and I started our “Horror Movie Club,” watching a horror movie every couple of weeks together. Things went smoothly until we hit our first snag: a late-night screening of Wolf Creek that rattled Kristine to the bone and still, to this day, remains the only movie we’ve watched that has scarred her for life. The film follows three twentysomethings (two British backpackers and an Aussie native) as they go on a cross-country road trip. They stop off at Wolf Creek National Park, the site of a gigantic crater made by an ancient meteor strike. Once there, their car mysteriously stops working and all their watches stop, stranding them in the middle of nowhere until Mick, a random towtruck driver (and Crocodile Dundee-esque bushman) stumbles upon them and takes them back to his camp. He promises to fix their car and send them on their way, but instead he drugs them. Our main heroine, Liz, wakes up bound-and-gagged in a tool shed. She manages to escape from the shed but, in trying to both rescue her friends and find a way for them all to get away from Mick’s compound, runs into numerous difficulties. Commonly cited as yet another depraved example of “torture porn” and derided by film critics like Roger Ebert and Moira Macdonald, Wolf Creek follows a Texas Chain Saw Massacre-like template for blending slasher, survival horror and exploitation elements to produce a pretty grueling experience.

If you haven’t seen Wolf Creek our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Kristine: I was talking to my boyfriend and he asked what movie we were chatting about and I told him the secret history of you and me and Wolf Creek, which he found fascinating and was curious as to whether we would talk about the fight. And I was like, “Of course! It is an integral part of the mythology of Sean and Kristine. Duh!” and he was like, “Okay then.”

Sean: Um, can you characterize one person being mad as a fight?

Kristine: Shut up I am not done. So then he asked me, “It sounds like it was so upsetting to you, I am surprised you would choose to revisit it. Would you ever watch it again?” and my honest answer was, I have been very curious to revisit Wolf Creek since I have watched a lot (by my standards) of horror since then and you’ve commented that I am much less sensitive then I once was. So, up until today, my answer to his question would be, “Yes, I would watch it again.” But then today I watched the trailer and I wanted to die. I forced myself to watch the clips and it was terrible terrible terrible. So my answer now is… now way.

Movie to hippies: Don’t go out in nature please. Nature doesn’t want you, your sandals, or your rainbow sunbrellas.

Sean: You have PTSD.

Kristine: I will never put myself in that position again. I am like that shell-shocked butler on Downton Abbey who is all, “They can’t make me go back, don’t send me back.” I thought I was fine, and all my original feelings were just from being a novice, but nope.

Sean: Tell me about watching the clips.

Kristine: First of all, I started watching them with earbuds like you suggested but that was too scary, so I took the earbuds out, because background noise made it less scary and less immediate. And my desk faces the window and I had to stop the clip and draw the blinds because the window faces the street and the fucking headlights were scaring me and I thought Mick’s face would pop up in the window like it does in the car with Liz. And then I realized that the bathroom is directly behind me so I had to shut that door because the sink mirror was scaring me. It was like, an ordeal.

Sean: I am squirming with delight.

Kristine: Oh, and I had to get the cats in and close and lock the balcony door and my cat Boyd was dawdling and I was like, near tears, begging him “Please please Boyd come in! I don’t want to have to go out and get you!”

Sean: If Mick did pop up in the house to get you, you would throw Boyd at him to distract him so you could get away. Like when you shoved me towards the man with the chainsaw at the Haunted Corn Maze.

Kristine: Do you remember how much I hated going outside after we first watched the movie at your house? And I had to drive home by myself and I was constantly looking in the rear view mirror and losing my shit.

Sean: The yard at that house was a scary nighttime yard.

Kristine: Oh god that yard was scary.

Sean: Admit you would sacrifice Boyd to Mick.

Kristine: No.

Sean: You would go toe-to-toe with Mick in a dark, shadowy house? To rescue Boyd?

Kristine: Umm… I plead the fifth.

Sean: You would cat-rifice Boyd!

Kristine: So, I think we have established that this movie still terrifies me, but what we don’t know is why. Is it scary to me partly because of PTSD from how scared I was the first time we watched it? Or if I watched it for the first time not as a horror movie novice, would I have the same reaction? Is there something innate to the film that I am reacting to? We’ll never know…

Like Tom on Parks & Rec would say: “My fingies!”

Sean: We will know when we watch one of Wolf Creek’s sister movies for the first time.

Kristine: Shut. Up.

Sean: But just for the record, High Tension was no big squids for you, and I think pre-Wolf Creek you would have been upset by it.

Kristine: True. I think you’re right on both counts.

Sean: What in the clips was so upsetting for you this time around?

Kristine: You know what was upsetting about the clips. You selected them. But I will detail if you insist.

Sean: Yes, I want to know which setpieces still affected you.

Kristine: Because I think of Wolf Creek as an object of abject disgust and terror, I forgot how likeable and relatable the cast is. That was upsetting to revisit.

Sean: Interesting.

Kristine: The rednecks in the gas station was something I had forgotten.

Sean: I’d forgotten about that too.

Kristine: It is really effective at setting the scene that these kids are on their own. It’s like they’re in a war zone of sorts. They are not safe and not just because of Mick. Mick is not an anomaly, he is a pure manifestation of this environment. That’s another thing I had forgotten.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: And then when I got to the first torture scene, I just remembered all of the trauma. Kristy’s scene in the garage/warehouse/whatever while Liz watches is just… beyond the pale.

Sean: Yeah, I think Liz waking up locked in the shed, bound and gagged, and then going outside and hiding, watching what he’s doing to Kristy…. that sequence is the most upsetting for me. It is horrible horrible horrible.

Kristine: I love Kristy. And the scene where Liz is saying they have to go back to the complex after they have escaped. It makes sense (because they need a car) but Kristy’s reaction is so right on and true. Even though Liz is awesome and rescued her, she still didn’t go through what Kristy went through, and if she had, she would never have suggested going back (and dying for it). I also forgot one of the scariest scenes is when Liz finds the video cameras and other belongings of previous victims. It powerfully reminded me of the scene in Silence of the Lambs when “American Girl” is in the well. She already knows she is fucked, right? But then she sees the fingernails of the other victims and then she really really knows she is fucked, and her panic goes from “10” on a 1-to-10 scale to like “10,000.”

Sean: I just want to point out how effectively Wolf Creek pulls the old “Janet Leigh in Psycho” trick (of killing the heroine first), but because it does it an hour into the movie, it is so shocking.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I mean, Wolf Creek = the rare Final Boy. Did Ben’s crucifixion still bother you?

It is just really hard to try to come up with a joke for this image.

Kristine: Ben’s crucifixion did still bother me, of course, but less so then the first time. I think it was the sheer gore that freaked me out the first time. I mean, that shit was gross. Plus the dog and the half-eaten corpse, etc. The second time it still sucked to watch but not as much, because Mick is not there doing it to him, it is less terrifying and more just gruesome.

Sean: You know what scene I still find unbearable?

Kristine: Tell me.

Sean: When they’re in their broken down car and the headlights appear. I just want to point out that Wolf Creek never explains the loss of power to their car. It’s like, a bit of magical realism there. This unexplained phenomenon that Mick is exploiting.

Kristine: Right, and their stopped watches. That’s because, like I said, Mick is of that place.

Sean: Like the crater site has these weird properties that have created the perfect environment for a Big Bad Wolf to exist in.

Kristine: Exactly. See, that’s kind of cool.

Sean: But the link to the meteor makes it kind of sci-fi and I love that little detail. Did Kristy’s roadside execution still bother you? I think that long shot of the whole thing is pretty effective.

Kristine: Yes, it is an amazing scene. So fucking horrifying. And so the opposite of Liz’s death scene, right? Which is so intimate?

Sean: Right.

Kristine: Which death scene was worse?

Sean: I mean, they’re both bad for different reasons.

Kristine: I can’t believe I am saying this, but I think Kristy’s is worse even though that seems impossible to say anything is worse than the ‘head on a stick’ scene.

Sean: All the car chase stuff feels so claustrophobic despite taking place in the middle of the huge, vast Outback, because there is no way she is going to get away….

Kristine: Remember when she is so elated that she might have escaped him?

Sean: It’s brutal.

Kristine: Plus, because of what she went through earlier, you root for her extra hard.

Sean: Yes.

Why do we? Crucify ourselves? Ever-EEE-day?

Kristine: We’ve focused so much on my intense reaction to Wolf Creek. I think we should talk about your thoughts a bit. Actually, more your reaction when you first saw it and why you choose it for our horror movie club. I know you saw it in the theatre, right?

Sean: I went to see this in Gainesville (I was at grad school) when it was playing in the theater, at night, with three girlfriends and I remember us all loving it and on the ride home seeing scary-looking Mick trucks in traffic and dying and laughing.

Kristine: Are they all horror gals?

Sean: Leah and Meg, yes I would consider them horror fans for sure. Our friend Georgia was also with us, and she is not really a horror fan. But I think just the adrenaline of all of us made it an exhilarating experience. I mean, Leah and I also saw The Descent together in the theater, thinking it might be dumb, but then we were like ‘That was amazing’ and were dying with joy.

Kristine: The Descent is amazing. But I think seeing Wolf Creek in the theatre is less scary then seeing it at home. Anything is less scary then seeing it at Sean’s house at night and then you have to walk through a scary yard of creeping vines and abandoned fountains to your car.

Sean: Weird, most people would say seeing a movie in the theater is more intense, wouldn’t they? At home you can pause and take a breath – which you insisted we do at least twice, if memory serves, during Wolf Creek. Also, during The Descent if memory serves.

Kristine: Well, in the theatre there are other people. You are more aware that it is an event. When did I insist on pauses? Do you remember at what point in the movie?

Sean: Oh god I don’t remember time stamps, just that you did. You always pause movies 20,000 times. You’re like, I have to wipe this crumb off the couch. PAUSE. I have to take a sip from this drink. PAUSE.

Kristine: But what was your reaction to Wolf Creek when you saw it with your gfs in Gainesville?

Sean: My reaction to it was that I was deeply impressed at what an effective, gripping experience it was. I really liked how the first 25 minutes were more of a roadtrip movie and then the horror kicks in. Just like how the first half hour of The Descent is a caving adventure film and then the monsters show up and it all takes a turn. Wolf Creek does something that a lot of slasher movies don’t bother to do: it takes the time to set up its characters before the horror starts. I, like you mentioned earlier, found the three actors in Wolf Creek to be really likable, believable and naturalistic. I liked how much time we got to spend with them. And I thought the movie was well-shot, lovely to look at in those early moments. It has a really well-developed sense of place (another thing most slasher movies skimp on). But I was also weirded out by how intense the horror elements were. I mean, it was a really fun way to see it, with friends all squealing and dying in the movies. But it did affect me and stay with me longer than most horror movies of this ilk do. It is not a disposable, forgettable experience. It leeches into you.

The burning bushman.

Kristine: So then it did haunt you. I mean, when you were home alone and not with the ladies… were you like, ‘Mick is outside?’ Or, more aptly, ‘The world is a brutal and terrible place’?

Sean: No, not like that. But I remember they dropped me off and I spent like three hours on my laptop reading about the backpacker murders and being scared.

Kristine: Did you love it? Being scared? Even though it is “based” on real human misery?

Sean: Yes I loved it. Here’s the thing: I had already heard about those backpacker disappearances at some distant point in the past and so when I was in the theater watching Wolf Creek I had this weird feeling of déjà vu/recognition. I think the almost cinema verité style of the movie helped with that, and that’s really nothing new. As we saw when we watched it, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre did this decades earlier. But again, what Texas Chain Saw doesn’t do that Wolf Creek does is give you a sense of the characters, and make you care for them. The kids in Texas Chain Saw are disposable bodies, they’re ciphers. But in Wolf Creek they’re people, and so the impact of what happens to them is visceral and gut-wrenching. I felt like I couldn’t breathe during some of the sequences. This is why I feel like the arguments about Wolf Creek being perverse and morally bankrupt are problematic. But anyway, the fact that the movie was inspired vaguely by reality made it scarier and more haunting. And I was almost more scared reading about the Backpacker Murders afterwards at home. All I can say is, I was deeply affected by the idea that you could go off to hike in the desert and some Bad Man could get you out there and you’d be wiped off the earth. No one would ever find out what happened to you.

Kristine: That makes sense. So, why did you choose it for us to watch, and when you did, did you know I was in for it? Did you know I would lose my shit?

Sean: Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me that you wouldn’t love it, because the friends I had seen it with all loved it. I thought it would be like when we watched The Descent: you squealing and dying during the movie, but exhilarated afterwards. You loved The Descent, and you were panicking and freaking out while we were watching it. But you watched Wolf Creek almost numbly, and then died afterwards. Your freak-o reaction to Wolf Creek was totally surprising and scary in and of itself. But also, fascinating. It was the first time in a long time that I realized, “Oh right, horror movies can be traumatic for people,” which is like, obvious but I had forgotten that.

Kristine: Tell me about it because I don’t remember much except being completely convinced that you had deeply and purposefully injured me. And more so then anything else, I remember feeling that you had betrayed some unspoken promise that existed that if I went on this journey with you (into horror movie club), that you would protect me. Isn’t it ridiculous and dramatic? But that is how I felt.

Sean: I don’t think you will like it if I recount how I remember your reaction.

Kristine: It’s ok, you can. I already know it was crazy. But I don’t feel bad, because doesn’t it just show the power of horror? So I really am the poster girl. Fear is irrational. Isn’t that the lesson? I feel like you might not have 100% “bought” that reaction… but after my freak out, you realized it is a thing of truth.

Sean: Yes, let me say first that I think it is “normal” for some people to be traumatized by horror movies. You know my sister – who is physically strong and a confident, assertive person – is like, so afraid of horror movies. Wolf Creek would send her to the psych ward. So I am aware that some people aren’t just cut out for it, and I would never try to impose Wolf Creek on someone fundamentally opposed to horror movies as an experience. I chose it for our horror movie club because, I thought, well the whole point of this is to expose you to all the different kinds of horror movies out there, of which this is one. I took it for granted that you were down for that. But, as I remember it, your post-Wolf Creek reaction wasn’t some big weird explosive thing actually. Instead, you were really mean and bitchy to me afterwards. There was this low-grade, passive-aggressiveness in you that I was like, Um… what is going on here? You did not come out and say “I am upset” or even, “I am upset with you.”

Kristine: Well, that sounds about right. That is my defense mechanism when I feel wounded.

Sean: You just lashed out at me and were mean and kept making very weird accusatory statements about random things. And it took me like 15 minutes to realize you were mad at me (keep in mind, my boyfriend does complain I can be slow on the uptake).

Kristine: Really? What did you think my problem was?

Sean: I was just like, Why is K being so bitchy? I had no idea. But it wasn’t fun.

Kristine: Were you all, “Is Kristine on the rag?”

Sean: Um… No, I didn’t think that. I don’t remember specific things you said after Wolf Creek (this was a while ago) but you were just like, “Well because of YOU…..”

Pansexual bohemians must die

Kristine: I remember something. I am remembering.

Sean: Which?

Kristine: I remember I didn’t want to leave because I didn’t want to drive home and see the headlights on the road. And I was housesitting a guest house with exposed windows that was corralled by a sliding metal fence (like the complex in Wolf Creek), and it had just gotten broken into and I didn’t want to go back there. But since I was in a panic, I didn’t think to explain this all to you. I just insisted on spending the night at your house (it was a weeknight) and you were like, Um, no. And I was like, You are a fucking monster. I didn’t tell you why I wanted to stay. I just said, I am not leaving. Kick your boyfriend out of bed, you have to sleep with me. And you were like, ‘Hell no.’

Sean: Oh right that sounds familiar… I can’t believe I wasn’t like, Let me get you some blankets for the sofa. I am a bad friend.

Kristine: Well…. You didn’t know why I was insisting. I mean, it does seem obvious now (you dummy).

Sean: I probably thought you were joking, dear. We do do the whole “exaggeration for comic effect” thing a lot.

Kristine: I think I didn’t want to give the evil any power by naming it. I was like, I am fine, but I am not leaving. FYI. And you were like, Get out.

Sean: Yeah this is coming back to me, that I thought you were joking but then you were being mean and I was like, What is going on here? We’re not doing a bit right now? I thought we were doing a silly bit about you not wanting to leave. And you turned on me like a feral wolf.

Kristine: When the truth came out, you said the immortal words: “You can’t be in a horror movie club and then be mad at me when we watch a movie that scares you.” Which, of course, is it in a nut shell but enraged me and I was all, ‘Yes, I can.’

Sean: Yes, this sounds like Kristine.

Kristine: I was all, If you betray me and betray your role as my mentor and guide, then I can bloody well be mad. Do not correct me with facts, sir. That was basically my reaction.

Just fyi, these actors are all TV stars on Australia’s version of The CW and so Down Under they funnel all their C-list TV teens into slasher movies just like we do.

Sean: But my role as tour guide is to push you to the darkest boundaries of the psyche. To take you on a tour of the shadowlands.

Kristine: I love how you see your role in movie club as that of a Cenobite from Hellraiser. Isn’t that what Pinhead says his job is? Except also isn’t there supposed to be pleasure wrapped up in the pain? Where’s the pleasure, Sean?

Sean: Well, I was thinking of my role more as Rod Serling-meets-Lux Interior but… Tomato, tomahto. There was no pleasure in watching Wolf Creek?

Kristine: No.

Sean: You didn’t enjoy anything about it?

Kristine: I mean, it’s well made, acting is good, pretty and effective cinematography – who cares? Head on a stick. Okay, I have a serious question for you now.

Sean: Shoot.

Kristine: Looking back on it, do you think you screened Wolf Creek for me too soon? Answer honestly.

Sean: Only in retrospect did I consider it even a possibility. But…. no I don’t think so. I don’t think there would have ever been a “right time” to show it. I don’t believe in postponing. I am all: ‘Confront.’

Kristine: But you don’t think the time is right for me to watch Martyrs (thank god). So you do see a progressive scale…

Sean: Well, it was only based on how upset you were by Wolf Creek that I thought, let’s postpone Martyrs. But now I actually do want us to watch Martyrs. I think it’s time. Let’s confront everything.

Kristine: Um, there are so many things you don’t want to confront and you know it.

Sean: Name one besides the off-limits thing. And remember, we’re tallking about horror movies.

Kristine: Damn. I was going to say “family stuff.”

Sean: I would watch a horror movie about my family in two seconds. Bring it on. I mean, the whole thing is that horror movies are safe spaces to confront the things that in life would traumatize us. The purpose of horror cinema is to confront monsters and reckon with them. I mean, right? I think horror movies are cathartic and useful safe spaces.

Kristine: I agree with that theory. I mean, I think it rings true and it is true for a lot of people who watch and make horror. It explains why horror mirrors real life. Like Vietnam, Iraq, whatever.

Sean: Watching horror movies makes me less fearful, not more.

Kristine: You see reflections in horror, as in any other genre, of people working through their shit vis-à-vis art. I get that but that is not my experience with horror. I think part of that is, by coming to horror late I never incorporated horror into how I processed and coped with fear and terror. I process those emotions other ways. So, horror is something different for me.

Keira Knightley’s doppelganger contemplates the career she’ll never have.

Sean: Well, my sister and I had the same traumatic childhood and I find it cathartic to confront shit in horror movies and she would find it to be re-traumatizing.

Kristine: Yeah, I can see that, too. But even your sister’s reaction is still not mine. I am still not sure what mine is. Which is why I am so interested in the genre, what scares me, what doesn’t and why…

Sean: But you are all “Big potatoes” about most of the stuff we’ve watched since Wolf Creek, no?

Kristine: ‘Big potatoes’? Are you trying to slip in a Polish joke?

Sean: You are all “And a side of bacon alone on a plate. Not touching the potatoes!”

Kristine: Shut your fucking hole!

Sean: I am very pleased with myself right now.

Kristine: I will sever your spinal cord and not think twice. I will slice off your fingers with my potato-cutting knife and you will never type again.

Sean: So it was not cathartic for you to watch Wolf Creek?

Kristine: No.

Sean: You didn’t feel braver for it afterwards?

Kristine: Well, yes. I did. I’d like to know where you think Wolf Creek falls on the continuum of horror, in terms of extremity. Also, I must point out that you had me watch the Director’s Cut, which is more intense then the theatrical release.

Sean: No, we didn’t watch the director’s cut.

Kristine: Yes, we did.

Sean: That cut has a scene of Liz finding a pit of rotting corpses…

Kristine: We watched that. And also Kristy hooking up with Ben, which was not in the theatrical version.

Sean: If you say so.

This is how Crocodile Dundee breaks up with his girlfriend.

Kristine: And the severed spine scene was longer.

Sean: Someone read Wikipedia.

Kristine: I did.

Sean: Okay, well I guess we did watch the more intense Director’s Cut. Sorry.

Kristine: Well… we discussed Wolf Creek and are still BFs.

Sean: So you asked about Wolf Creek’s place in the horror continuum. To have that talk is opening up a whole can of worms.

Kristine: According to you.

Sean: The answer to your question actually begs another question. I mean, you are aware of the designation “torture porn” right?

Kristine: Yes, but I have not seen any.

Sean: Yes, you have seen a “torture porn” movie. Wolf Creek. I think Wolf Creek fits that designation effectively, though I would argue that (a) the designation itself is problematic and (b) certain movies that fit comfortably within that category (Martyrs, Wolf Creek, Inside, A Serbian Film, maybe even the first Hostel) have more going on than critics of the genre want to give them credit for, even when they’re problematic. I mean, The Human Centipede, they’re not. I mean, does “torture porn” sound like a fitting designation for Wolf Creek to you?

Kristine: Yes. Even though a lot of the scares don’t involve gore.

Sean: Yes. Wolf Creek is remarkably gore-free.

Australia’s national POV is a rifle-sight because Australians like to hunt and kill animals.

Kristine: Like when Mick is hunting them. Sean, the number one scariest thing about Wolf Creek is the headlights. That’s what spooked me the worst that night and many nights after. He is out there.

Sean: What about High Tension? You were unmoved by that movie, and I think it would be a pretty grueling experience for anyone not prone to the horror genre.

Kristine: Yeah I don’t know. High Tension is more… gonzo grossness. It’s different somehow from Wolf Creek. I don’t know if I can articulate why. When the dad’s head gets decapitated in the staircase with the wardrobe? It’s like, too much, which makes it less scary. There was some element of comedy to it.

Sean: The murder of the family in High Tension is the torture-porniest sequence I think.

Kristine: The headlights, Sean. The headlights!

Sean: Your boy Ebert made a really interesting critique of Wolf Creek (which he also gave ZERO STARS to). He said “It is a film with one clear purpose: To establish the commercial credentials of its director by showing his skill at depicting the brutal tracking, torture and mutilation of screaming young women.” Like Greg McLean made Wolf Creek solely to entice studios to hire him to make other movies.

Kristine: Well, that is obnoxious of the director. Ebert is right. Though I do think the film has validity beyond that…

Sean: Oh that was my question. You think that sounds right?

Kristine: I think it is right, but not the whole right. It’s not wrong.

Sean: Well, its such a pessimistic way of looking at the movie.

Kristine: The difference between Kristy and Liz’s treatment and Ben’s is striking to say the least. You never see anything being done to Ben.

Sean: Ben was crucified, so let’s not act like he was skipping through fields of daisies in the movie.

Kristine: You didn’t see Mick doing it to Ben. The thing that terrifies me about Kristys death is not that she is dead. It’s watching Mick hunt and kill her and mock her. Same with Liz.

Sean: Um, he had to rip his arms off the nails.

Kristine: I’m talking about the experience, not the end result and also… Ben does live.

Sean: Well, exactly another way the movie subverts genre expectations, our Final Boy (who is also not “queer” or robbed of masculinity like other Final Boys are). I feel motivated to defend Wolf Creek from the Eberts of the world. I do not like when jerks call me depraved for liking something (see Michael Haneke).

THE HEADLIGHTS SEAN THE HEADLIGHTS

Kristine: Watching things be done to women is a thing and that is a problem. Why do we not see Ben being abused and denigrated?

Sean: But Ebert and, I’m sure Haneke, would defend Peter Greenaway movies and David Lynch movies, which are equally if not more depraved than Wolf Creek in their treatment of women.

Kristine: I think things are done to men and women in those movies.

Sean: Here’s the thing: Ebert and his ilk just don’t understand horror and something you and I talked about back when we first watched this was…

Kristine: Why did he love The Descent then?

Sean: Isn’t it more morally depraved to slicky aestheticize death and have the torture and murder of women have no impact (like all the teen-pop slashers, from Scream (Ebert gave 3 stars to Scream and Scream 2) onwards to Final Destination (he gave 3 stars to the first film) and Saw (which, okay, he gave two stars BUT he called “cheerfully gruesome”) movies and beyond)? Wolf Creek puts to the visceral shock and horror back in a slasher scenario, no?

Kristine: Sure…

Sean: It refuses to let us enjoy what is happening, while a movie like the House of Wax remake (which he gave two stars) pornographizes Paris Hilton’s dead body in a way that is gross and demeaning and mean-spirited. Those movies ask us to relish the torture of women. They present the torture of women as something inconsequential, something with zero impact and zero implications. Wolf Creek wants us to actually confront the torture and murder of women in a way that is truly nauseating and impossible to enjoy. And it does it without being a smarmy, didactic prig about it (á la Michael Haneke and Funny Games – I movie I actually liked just fine but was so put off by the moral sermonizing of the director – and also Ebert managed to cough up a half-star for it). And I honestly see no difference between Kristy and Laura Palmer. Or Kristy and Georgina Spica.

Kristine: But you feel Wolf Creek is enjoying you not enjoying. It’s sadistic to the moviegoer. It’s not just presenting some unvarnished reality and saying, Deal with it.

Sean: Well, there might be that, but is The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover ( a movie Ebert gave 5 stars to) not enjoying your discomfort at all the horrible things Michael Gambon’s Thief does? Is Twin Peaks not enjoying your horror at Bob’s brutal killing of Cousin Maddy? Or Wild at Heart (2 and 1/2 stars from the Eebs) enjoying our horror at Lula’s debasement or Blue Velvet (only one star here but still… a whole star!) not enjoying our horror at Dorothy Vallens’ debasement? I feel like there are basic high art/low art class conflicts at the heart of people like Haneke and Ebert’s moral grandstanding and no, Ebert doesn’t get a pass for writing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Kristine: Well, if he’s so invested in getting us to confront the horrors of the torture of women, why didn’t Greg McLean tackle a real problem – like scores of women in Juarez being brutally murdered and dumped in shallow graves? That’s “real” brutality.

Sean: Um…. I mean, you’re being a devil’s advocate right?

Kristine: I’m just sayin’, if your goal is to force the world to reconcile with the fact that violence against women exists…

Sean: I don’t think its fair to make that argument. No, that’s the wrong framing because this is about the slasher genre. The movie is in dialogue with a genre of film and is using the tropes of a specific genre and re-invigorating the genre with a fresh sense of shock and awe.

Kristine: I can accept that. But I am still wary of Greg McLean. He’s not a lady, and he most certainly is shady (copyright RuPaul).

Ratings Round-Up

The Girl’s rating: I want to travel back in time to stop myself from watching it.

The Freak’s rating: I like how bad this makes me feel.

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49 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek (2005)

  1. Ah Wolf Creek! I wonder what it says about me or this movie that I had COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN IT EXISTED???!!! As soon as you mentioned it I remembered seeing it in Gainesville (which, let’s be real, is kind of Wolf Creek-esque) and I remember afterwards me telling you guys that if we ever got kidnapped in the Outback and I managed to survive I would totally leave you all behind. Also I remember the long shot of the girl getting shot and still think that was the scariest, or to be more precise, eeriest moment.

    I think I have to agree that most of the “fun” of seeing this movie was seeing it in the theater and I think if I had seen it at home and unprepared I would have been deeply disturbed. Seeing it in the context we did was very sort of like “schlocky double feature friday fright film”. So in that sense, it exceeded my expectations because it was surprising in certain ways and because it kind of creeps up on you.

  2. Leah I am DYING LAUGHING remembering how you told us you’d leave us for dead if we got Wolf Creek-ed together, mostly because I’m pretty sure you were telling us the truth! Do you remember we pulled up behind a weird, rusty towtruck at a red light on the way home and were all like THAT’S HIM! and were convinced that anyone who drove a truck like that was a serial killer? And also yes the movie was “fun” in the way that a really terrifying rolllercoaster is “fun” – you’re thrilled on the other side that you made it through without vomiting, passing out or dying.

  3. I haven’t seen Wolf Creek, so I can’t comment on that; but I can say that I’ve managed to watch the American version of Funny Games twice, and it didn’t strike me as didactic or moralizing either time. It struck me as confrontational and, at times, obsessed with its own meta-ness (in a way that, I think, fell just to the right side of the line of good editing), but it never felt sermonified to me. Maybe because it seemed to be equally about the entertainification of horrific violence and the nature of story/storytelling. So I didn’t see it so much as rubbing the audiences faces in the fetishization for violence so much as I saw it as confronting the nature verisimilitude/”verisimilitude” in film. I also didn’t see it as making a particular stand; it struck me as a series of questions.

    If Wolf Creek appears at one of the bootleg stands in China, I will snatch it up and then blame you, Sean, for the resulting panic attack. Smooch.

      1. I think you’ve struck upon the most interesting way of thinking through Funny Games I’ve heard yet, and that is to think of it as “a series of questions.” I love how you frame it that way. I will admit I felt like it was a bit like MADD coming to your school with graphic photos of mangled dead bodies sticking out of car wrecks, pointing to it, and going “Now who is going to say it’s okay to drive drunk? WHO IS GOING TO SAY IT NOW!!?” But maybe I was being oversensitive. Or maybe not. I do remember the Leonardo DiCaprio from Hedwig guy turning to the camera a bunch of times to be like “This is what YOU want RIGHT?” to the audience. Like, you out there who came here for the spectacle of torture and gore and terror, you’re all disgusting! But maybe it was meant as a provocation and not an indictment? I’m not convinced but I want to think about it more.

  4. let me take a few days to watch this movie, then i’ll comment. intrigued, but personally don’t like torture porn as much as i used to. i guess i’m just growing up…or it’s just getting not scary to me. yeah, thats it. i like a nice mix of psychological horror and gore. too much of either bores me.

    1. You MUST report back after you watch – I would be fascinated to know your take on this one. And your comment also begs the question, what movie that you would comfortably designate as “torture porn” previously scared you (when you were younger and fainter of heart)? Have you seen Martyrs or Inside?

      1. you know it’s been months and i still can’t answer that question. Maybe I was never that scared of the gore stuff. I have always been more freaked out by more the psychological terror. Maybe I knew too early that it was all fake, maybe it’s just my terrible memory. I’m still scared to shower alone in my apt. because of Psycho. I seriously check at least once to make sure I’m alone and not about to be stabbed. I really don’t enjoy the ocean anymore because of Jaws. For real. it’s all i can think off as soon as i can’t feel the sand beneath my swimming feet. I’m trying to think when a movie i’d consider torture porn scared me. Does the Exorcist count?
        I finally watched Wolf Creek. It was neat. But I felt I had seen a lot of it before and the evil dude was kinda too goofy for me to be super scared of. Though he was enjoyably evil and gross. The effects were cool, but i laughed at the crucifixion, to be honest. and also when he chopped the girl’s fingers off, i admit i chuckled. it’s not my fault the director has great comedic timing!
        Hmm, I’m beginning to think it’s me that is the problem here, not the scary movies.
        Well, I enjoyed it enough, sold it back tho, didn’t keep for the permanent collection. Wasn’t scared during or after, but had a good time watching it.

  5. Hmm. As an Australian, I found this film terrifying because I know that people disappear in the outback ALL the time. Down Under, we know that there are Micks out there. Don’t go into the outback in a 1980s Ford Falcon. Something bad will happen to you. Seriously. And this film depicts what most likely happens to victims — I seriously doubt the killing is quick and painless, or that the women (or men) die unmolested. That’s probably why the concept of “torture porn” doesn’t come to the forefront of my mind when I think of Wolf Creek. I basically just think, “Yeah, that’s what happens to lots of those people who make it onto the missing persons’ list.”

    1. Kath, my god that’s scary (people vanishing in the Outback)! This was something Kristine and I had talked about after we first watched the movie but it didn’t make it into this discussion – that in some ways Wolf Creek is a nationalistic nightmare, that Mick IS the “soul of the Outback” or at least it’s black heart. He’s the Australian boogeyman, or even (like in Session 9) a malevolent genius loci [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genius_loci]. So if for you, as an Australian, this seems like something that could and does really happen, what about Greg McLean’s next movie, Rogue, about killer crocodiles? (I also just watched “Black Water,” another killer crocodile movie). Are croc attacks that common in Australia? Horror movies would have me believe that they are! Thanks so much for the comment!

      1. I like the notion of Mick as the “black heart” of the outback — and he’s certainly the Australian boogeyman: that malevolent force operating in a vast, isolated, equally beautiful and terrible environment in which there are few landmarks, or places to hide, only potential killing-places. I had (mercifully) forgotten about Rogue. I can see how, in the context of that McLean film, one might become dubious about any connection between art and reality in McLean work. People are not frequently attacked by crocs in Australia. It certainly happens, and makes the news (a few times a year) when it does, but we know where crocs are likely to be lurking — often it’s even signed — and many (I’m not exaggerating here) attacks in the news seem to be linked to alcohol-infused adventures into places which essentially have “danger: crocodiles” written all over them. But there just isn’t that malevolence associated with crocs that McLean might have you believe exists. They’re big. They bite. You may not see them, but they are there, so stay out of their territory. With that in my mind, it’s no wonder Rogue disappointed me.

        1. Reading your reply, I realized… I went to graduate school in Gainesville, Florida, a place with alligators. It seems like the same rules apply. There was a small lake, Lake Alice, near campus with gators in it, and I remember being told that a gator had attacked someone when some drunk guys were made to swim the length of the lake during Pledge Week or some such nonsense. So it stands: most croc/gator attacks are due to human stupidity.

  6. You have made me think about this film way too much! The differences between the attacks on Ben and the women? Well, I just presumed that, like many sexual predators, Mick was disinterested in crossing gender lines, and that the most tittilating approach for him was to have man’s best friend, his dog — a wolf like himself, violate Ben at the very time that Mick is violating his prey.

    And now I’m also thinking about Jindabyne (2006), a far more complex, dark film which is mostly outside the horror genre; there’s another “perfect environment for a Big Bad Wolf to exist in,” if ever there was one. The Mick of that film is not actually the focus — it’s really all about the many, many manifestations of the Big Bad Wolf. But that’s a whole other Blog.

    Thank you! (And darn you!)

    1. :) I am delighted by thinking too much! I love the connection you’re making between Mick/the dog as both being “wolves;” predators – but I also get the feeling that what makes them predators is decidedly NOT natural. A dog is not that vicious without training and encouragement. So they’re creatures who’ve been twisted/perverted/transformed. I wonder if the movie’s implicit suggestion is that it’s the Outback itself that’s degraded Mick, turned him into the Big Bad Wolf. That idea, that Nature can actually itself encourage perversion, “unnatural” behavior, is a fascinating one.

      Jindabyne was based on a Raymond Carver story, no? I believe that same story was one of the vignettes in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts,” where Fred Ward and his fishing buddies – including Huey Lewis, who urinates onscreen, scarringly – ignore the corpse of a young murdered woman they discover in the water. Then Anne Archer, as Ward’s wife, can’t believe he could do such a thing once he’s come home and confessed to her what happened. I haven’t seen Jindabyne, but it sounds like it’s worth checking out. The gender politics of that story seems pointedly feminist, or at least Altman’s version of it did, in how it makes the case that men are socialized to see women not as PEOPLE but as objects, and so the body of the murdered woman is only slightly more shocking to see in the water than, say, a bunch of litter or an abandoned car or something. This ordinary evil – that men have problems identifying with women, or recognizing their humanity – is certainly blown up to grotesque proportions by Wolf Creek… where Mick has lost the ability to recognize the humanity of anybody, man woman or child…

      1. I have toyed with the idea that it is the Outback, or Nature, which has made Mick into the Big Bad Wolf. The rednecks in the cafe support that concept. The problem is, I didn’t buy the cafe redneck scenario for a second — it constitutes one of the significant problems with the movie. For me, it seemed like little more than a reference to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and, as Kristine said, a plot device for setting the kids up as being completely on their own. It was unbelievable — and here I return to the movie’s tenuous link to “reality” — because I know that such places are not that unfriendly…thus I checked the footage (the first time I watched it, actually) to ensure that the scene was also used to first introduce the prey to Mick. Yep, he’s there. And that also explains the car’s failure: Mick knew where they were going and knew he had time to disable the car while they were hiking in their silly sandals. The watches? Well, another significant flaw. Why not just have one of the victims wearing a watch, and the other two too hippy-ish to bother? One watch failure near a magnetised site is explicable, but still creepy. But I digress. My interpretation is that the predator is attracted to the ideal hunting environment, rather than being an entity produced by that environment. Mick has the “appetite” Ed Harris once spoke of, and he has nurtured it in the other members of his pack. I accept that Nature has encouraged his perversion, but I cannot accept that she has precipitated it. Maybe it’s because I am Australian? Maybe the thought of the Outback creating an abomination is too much?

        Now that you mention Jindabyne was based on a Carver story, I can see it! The gender politics and the racial politics of Jindabyne seem, like the various men, to be the Big Bad Wolf. They are there, and they are not pretty. My issue with Jindabyne was that I was looking for the headlights, and there weren’t any. I love the headlights. Once I knew there was a serial killer, I wanted him to feature more heavily in the movie. My problem, I know. I also had issues with the transition between the men’s initial horror at finding the woman’s body and their ultimate decision to objectify her. It is not well done, perhaps because Ray Lawrence is attempting to make the men less terrible. There’s no Huey Lewis peeing over the body in this one. It might have been better if Lawrence had taken it that direction.

        Now I shall resist the urge to go hire both of these movies.

        1. Kath, I’m almost persuaded by your reading, that the predator is drawn to the environment, not created by it. Being in Tucson, Arizona – a place where the landscape is remarkably similar to the Australia depicted in Wolf Creek – it’s more comforting that way.

          Obviously horror movies are a cultural space where we work out all our anxieties about our relationship to nature (films like Open Water, The Ruins, Frozen, The Grey to cite some recent examples) and also about rural communities – the “killer redneck” (in Wolf Creek, in Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in The Hills Have Eyes, in Duel, in Deliverance, in I Spit on Your Grave, and less obviously in movies like Eden Lake or the original Wicker Man) is often all about class anxiety and, weirdly enough, about whiteness, I think. The boogeymen (and women) in these movies are always “poor white trash” or at least rural communities whose values have – by their isolation and insularity – been perverted.

          I feel like there is a warning buried somewhere in here about getting too close to nature and (maybe I’m reaching) this feels, in how it is staged, like a conservative and Christian anxiety. The idea that nature is the site of the pagan, of some kind of primordial darkness that urbanity, community and religion train out of us, or keep at bay.

          I’m getting away from Wolf Creek here… but I do feel like Ben’s crucifixion scene at the end has some of this subtext to it. Mick is degraded by his isolation, by his closeness to nature, and so it stands to reason that there would be this twisted sacrilegious iconography involved. I actually feel (and now I really might be reaching) that this is inextricably bound up in the horror genre’s bent towards misogyny: Nature (feminine) vs. Civilization (masculine), the Pagan (feminine) vs. the Christian (masculine), the Irrational (feminine) vs. the Rational (masculine).

          It gets complicated, but Mick (and other killers like him) often are played as brutal and “masculine” and phallic (their long, piercing weapons) because they’re actually feminized right? There’s something about Mick’s violence that points to sexual lack, that he must brutalize women in order to compensate for some kind of sexual dysfunction. Tobe Hooper really lampooned this idea in Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2, explicitly making Leatherface’s chainsaw a phallic symbol, and one that was necessary because of Leatherface’s impotence….

          But back to Nature’s role in all this, I think its a toss-up between the likelihood that Mick chooses the Outback because it’s the best hunting ground, or if Mick becomes a predator BECAUSE such a perfect hunting ground exists and that triggers something in him. I think that, across many decades, horror movies have been working out and exploring that very question about what makes a monster out of a man. In movies like Frozen or Open Water, we perish because we stupidly misunderstand how lethal Nature can be, and so we fall out of our spot at the top of the food chain, back into the maw of the wild. But when the monster is someone like Mick, he doesn’t quite occupy the same space as the wolves in Frozen or the sharks in Open Water, right? He’s a different kind of animal.

          Not sure I actually made any real point in all of this, but it’s fun just to kick around some ideas….

  7. Now you have persuaded me – for the moment. I suspect I am protecting myself from the horrifying possibility that creatures such as Mick started out as a reasonable facsimile of “normal” – perhaps working as a long haul truck driver frequently crossing the interior (I imagine) – when some spark from Nature ignited a ferocious sickness, like a bush fire, within him.

    I agree that Wolf Creek is also about whiteness. We certainly have our white “killer redneck.” Interestingly, Australian Aboriginal concepts of spirituality posit that people belong to the land, not the other way around: it is the colonizer who attempts to claim ownership of the land, an entity which, according to mythology, is not capable of being owned. Following this line, the behaviour we see in Mick might be the logical product in an Australian (horror) study of the Outback’s potential power over those who do not belong, those who attempt to own that which cannot be owned. The upshot is that we end up with yet another animal, the ultimate in corrupted spirit, something more than a wolf (or a shark), a creature with religion and sexuality to be perverted, as you suggest. Now, I am definitely reaching…(but making my case would mean watching the movie again – I wasn’t kidding when I said it terrified me…)

    You know what? I need to drive only a couple of hours before I cross that line in the sand between civilization and isolation, so I probably need to embrace my first reading.

    Tucson, huh? You haven’t come across Ms Sarah Barone-Cafiero, perchance?

    1. Apparently The Girl has gotten massages from Sarah Barone and I have met her briefly, but I don’t really remember other than she seemed super-nice. Also, our tenant babysits her children apparently? What a small world! I will make Kristine fill in more details here….

      1. Sarah is a blogger, too: http://sugarsnapme.com/ You’d probably enjoy her writing.

        She’s also friends with longtime friend of mine, Benjamin McDonald. Ben and I both went to NAU in Flagstaff back in 98-99.

        It is an incredibly small world!

    2. Also, I LOVE your explanation here of the Aboriginal mythology surrounding the Outback, and the idea of it corrupting “those who do not belong.” Yes! That is an awesome way to frame Mick!