Three young people, two English girls Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) accompanied by Australian Ben (Nathan Phillips) are holidaying in Australia, with plans to visit the huge meteor crater in the Outback at Wolf Creek. With what cash they have, Ben buys a car for them to drive the journey in, and before they go, the three settle for a night of partying. Next day, their trip begins, with Kristy noticing a mutual attraction between Liz and Ben, although Ben claims to have a girlfriend back home. It all seems like a harmless camping excursion, but fate will bring them up against the terrifying unknown...
Wolf Creek, scripted by producer and director Greg McLean with his first feature length film, caused a stir of controversy when it was released in 2005. It claimed to be based on a true story, and indeed says so at the start, but it really was more inspired by terrible tales of then-unsolved murders in the Outback. The film had to be delayed before it was released in Australia due to a current backpacker murder trial whose details bore striking similarity to McLean's storyline, but if they were really looking for Wolf Creek's derivation, they needed to look no further than that old seventies horror favourite, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
That said, there's an atmosphere to the movie that also harks back to the weirdo Australian horrors of twenty to thirty years before it, films like Razorback and Long Weekend. There's a steady and careful build up to the anticipated action, and some viewers found that by the time blood and guts arrived, all the tension had dissipated. But actually, McLean expertly sustains an uneasy tone throughout, possibly purely because we sense there are bad things just around the corner. Early on, Ben tells his companions of a tale he heard about UFOs in the Outback causing sinister events, and this primes us to expect the worst.
Another scene that makes us worry is where the trio stop off to fill up with fuel before the last stretch to the crater. When they go into the bar to pay for the petrol, they are intimidated by the locals and a fight nearly breaks out - all plot foreshadowing. When they reach their destination, the loneliness of the vast landscape effectively spells their isolation and the crater itself is undeniably impressive to look at. Then things start to go wrong; after returning from a few hours spent in the middle of the landmark, they find their watches have stopped - could this be the influence of the UFOs, they wonder? But this is trivial compared to their next problem, which is that the car simply won't start.
The interaction between the friends is perfectly believable, with Ben and Liz's blossoming romance and Kristy's possessiveness over Liz, but all this is thrown out of the window once the fourth main character shows up. As they sit in the car with the night fallen around them, a set of lights appears on the trail ahead, no, not the flying saucers but the cheerfully sinister Mick (John Jarratt) in his truck. He offers to help them, and tows their car back to his place for repairs. What happens next is an intense and deadly game of cat and mouse when Mick (Jarratt makes a great villain) turns nasty - you can pinpoint the moment this happens as when Ben makes a joke about Crocodile Dundee. Grimly exploiting the paranoia city folk have when out in unfamiliar territory, Wolf Creek confirms your worst fears, and despite its slightly anti-climactic ending, is an exciting if joyless experience. Music by Frank Tetaz.