APRIL 15, 2014
SOURCE: ONLINE (SCREENER)
Some are better than others of course, but I've only had one truly miserable Christmas Day, as far as I can recall. It was 2005, I had just moved to CA, specifically for a job I didn't end up getting, forcing me to work at Best Buy (and more demeaning, the E! network) to pay bills. Worse, my wife was still in Boston working her real job (and thus ACTUALLY paying the bills, since neither BB or E! were enough to live on), so all I had was my cat Butters, who as usual didn't buy me anything. Since I wouldn't be able to have fun, I figured I'd go see some depressing movies - Munich and Wolf Creek - as they would fit my mood. But while I actually quite liked Munich for the most part (pretty much everything except that sex scene, good god), I had little affection for Creek, finding it unpleasant, not very well paced, and erring a bit too close to what critics will call "torture porn". But after hearing some positive word about Wolf Creek 2, including from a few who also didn't think much of the original, I got excited - and sure enough they were correct: this is a better film.
Oddly, the most suspenseful bit as right at the top of the movie, as serial killer Mick (a returning John Jarratt) is pulled over by a pair of asshole cops, who are determined to ruin his day despite Mick's friendly cooperation. We WANT to see him killing these assholes, in other words, which is a perfect way to start off this kind of sequel. If you were to poll horror fans about how they'd like a sequel to Wolf Creek to play out, 99 out of 100 would say "Follow Mick" instead of "Follow that one guy who lived", so why not kick things off with not only a murder, but one where we can kind of be on his side? It's a tricky balance for these "horror heroes" like Freddy or Pinhead, where they're more interesting than their victims but still have to be the bad guy in the narrative, but returning director Greg Mclean pulls it off in this sequence.
From there it becomes a Richard Franklin homage, with a Road Games like cat and mouse structure (including two big car chases) and a Psycho-ish twist that finds both of our would be protagonists killed, with a good Samaritan who tried to rescue one of them taking over as the hero. For a few minutes I actually thought the movie would keep changing protagonists with Mick himself being the only constant, especially when now-hero Paul (Ryan Corr) is himself rescued by a couple of helpful strangers - maybe he'd get killed and Mick would go after these two for a while, and so on. Alas, it's more of a Hitcher scenario from there on out, which deflates the suspense but keeps the movie from being too much of a retread of the original. I got a bit nervous when, post cops, we meet a couple of tourists making their way around Australia (even stopping at that same crater from the first one), but when things switch gears they stay switched for the most part, giving the sequel its own identity without straying too far off the path.
It's interesting how both of Mclean's post-WC films have seemingly addressed criticism head on, almost as an apology from the filmmaker. After many decried Wolf Creek's misogynist tone (of the 3 protagonists, the two females got killed, quite horribly - while the male lived), he gave us Rogue, in which the croc only managed to kill male members of the cast, leaving each and every female alive when the credits rolled - including one that suffered what looked a lot like an unavoidably mortal wound. And another complaint about Wolf Creek was that Mick took too long to appear, which is fixed here since he's in almost every scene. There's really only about 15 minutes or so that he's off somewhere else, and our hero never gets too far from him during the 2nd act, which is basically one big chase scene. And the 3rd act is mostly in Mick's hideout, where Mclean seems to be paying a bit of homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 with the series of tunnels and a skeleton adorned with Christmas lights (though that might have been in WC1, I can't recall). Jarratt seems to be relishing his expanded role, offering plenty of colorful phrases (his reaction to a kangaroo is pure bliss) and a demeanor that is equal parts annoyed and cheerfully drunk.
Two quibbles keep it from being a full home run, and one has SPOILERS so skip this paragraph if you don't want the ending partially given away. The first is that it's a bit too long, and could benefit from some tightening (particularly the 3rd act) and maybe one less scene of someone trying to flag down a car only for the driver to ignore them or almost hit them. We get it, the Outback is a terrible place for outsiders - this is overkill. The other (again, SPOILERS!!!) is that the ending is a bit too similar to the first film's, which kind of makes it feel like it could be skipped entirely if we are given a Wolf Creek 3. The "based on true story" element is a stretch (and we know that by now), so I'm not sure why they opted for something that almost seems like they're just trying to be true to the story - go all out! Or maybe lead us into THINKING that we're seeing the same ending, only to pull the rug out from under us. Again, the 3rd act dragged a bit as is, so for it to all come down to a rerun was a bit disappointing.
But the first hour and change work like gangbusters, and I'm always happy to see a sequel more or less fix what didn't work (at least, for me) about the original and deliver something more enjoyable overall. Sure, the tone is different - the first one was grim and dark, whereas this one is a bit more spiritedly macabre (which is just a way to say it's kind of fun to see all this death, again, like TCM2), and thus appealed more to my sensibilities. Can't say it'll end up on my top 10 of 2014 list if I were to make one (I probably won't), but it'd be a frontrunner for biggest surprise - and in some ways that's just as impressive. Hopefully it won't take another 6-7 years for Mclean to make his next film - supposedly he's got something cooking with Blumhouse right now, but that's hardly a guarantee for a speedy release (just ask Bryan Bertino or Oren Peli). I've gushed before about Australian horror, and I think he could be one of the big ones if he'd only have more output!
What say you?