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Home > Media

TFT Film: Wolf Creek

21 October 2005

'I'm shocked and concerned that people are liking it so much because it's fucking fucked up. It's wrong. It shouldn't be seen - why would you want to watch that stuff?'

- Greg McLean, director, 'Wolf Creek'


It's always sobering to the film fan when a film gets into the news due to the nature of its content. With the trial of the alleged killer of tourist Peter Falconio underway, the Public Prosecutions people in Australia's Northern Territory have asked that the release of indie horror film 'Wolf Creek' be delayed so as not to influence the outcome. Having seen the film, we'd have to agree this is a sensible move. And having seen the news, with Joanne Lees explaining to a court how she heard her boyfriend's body being dragged along the ground, we're forced to question our attitude towards entertainment inspired by tragedy.

Like 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' - whose two rather than three-act structure it employs - 'Wolf Creek' is declared to be 'based on real events', a term easily confused with 'based on a true story'. Arguably, the film has to answer to nobody, and liberty taking doesn't apply, as it is a made-up story merely incorporating speculative elements from true crimes. Some have griped that, since only one of the three main characters survives but we see what happens to the other two, the leering speculation involved amounts to grotesque exploitation - a result of a failure to grasp the difference. Nevertheless, as you watch, you feel a creeping discomfort of the viewing conscience. That, and something like actual honest-to-Satan terror.

'Wolf Creek' is one of the most staggering films to join a genre that is pretty used to being staggering. Proudly-immune horror junkies who yawn in the face of gore are finding themselves moved by it. Part of its secret is its ponderous build-up - producing further carping from those who can't differentiate between 'extended building of characters to stimulate sympathy' and 'fucking boring bit where nothing happens'. We get to know three young tourists - two English girls and an Australian bloke - as they set off across the outback in a ratty car. They're presented to us in an entirely naturalistic way which you accept without thought. There are no dumbly gorgeous sacrificial lambs, no contrivance - there are just matey conversations and one awkward, sweet, tenderly fumbled kiss. You try to hold back, knowing that you shouldn't get too close to these characters, but your brain betrays you.

When the horrible things come, courtesy of a psychotic tourist-hating mechanic - played by the recognisable John Jarratt, who navigates the psycho-killer cliché minefield with great deftness, and is bastard frightening - you can hardly believe it. It is so starkly realistic that it has an illicit quality, as if you've stumbled upon a snuff film in some dark internet corner. It's so visceral it's almost too much to bear. Even as it sidesteps convention, casually denying its chokehold on creativity, it upholds it - you want the kids to win. They're resourceful, but not superhumanly so; they do stupid things, but not flagrantly asking-for-a-visit-from-Darwin stupid, just humans-in-panic stupid. A sequence of rifle shots make you feel for the first time that you're actually being shot at, even though there's no reason why they shouldn't just sound like the *crack-ptoings* of every other film you've seen. It's properly, deeply affecting. It shoves you outside yourself, which brings you closer to the experience being depicted - right into the disassociation that shock creates. You stare and gasp and feel like you might want to weep a bit, and you're amazed that something on a screen can haul such reactions out of you.

It is the sort of film that makes you wonder why you watch horror films, even as it entirely justifies the genre. It's beautifully shot, stylish even in its naturalism, and intelligent enough to shake off accusations of exploitation - but still, watching it makes you feel implicated, guilty. How is this enjoyment? What's the purpose of all this sickening violence, and how do you justify looking at it in the knowledge that something approximating it really happened? It's a genuinely difficult question. But you figure that, for a start, art has to imitate life because there's nothing else for it to imitate. It's good to be forced to examine yourself and your preferences in this way; it's always good to be stimulated, too. It makes you realise and embrace the fact that it's not only happy sensations that are worth experiencing, and that even horrid sensations can be positive in that they make you feel alive. The fact that you can't laugh off 'Wolf Creek' makes you feel humbled, reminding you of the first time you felt this shaken, being four years old and terrified of the dark. Essentially, it restores your horror-virginity, and makes you feel guilty and besmirched as a line-crossing horror-slut, all at the same time.

We didn't finish our popcorn.

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