Director Greg McLean‘s 2005 feature debut, Wolf Creek, made a big splash in the horror community thanks to its cruel spirit and dark efficiency, and when he followed that up two years later with the underrated crocodile creature-feature Rogue it seemed genre fans had an exciting new talent to watch. And then six years passed without a peep from McLean.
That dry spell finally comes to an end this week as Wolf Creek 2 hits American shores with a vengeance, but while it’s a bigger and bloodier affair it loses the elements that made the first film stand apart from the crowd.
The gorgeous views throughout the Australian Outback continue to call their siren song to tourists the world over, and Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) couldn’t be happier about it. A pair of German backpackers are his latest targets, but when one escapes his grip and finds a good Samaritan (Ryan Corr) willing to help Mick’s plans for his unwilling bed buddy take a backseat to catching this latest do-gooder. And by “do-gooder” I of course mean unlucky sap.
The sequel’s issues are apparent in the film’s first few minutes. Not only are we greeted with the identical onscreen text from the first film proclaiming the veracity of the tale and dropping statistics on the number of missing persons the continent sees each year, but we’re also graced with Mick’s presence almost immediately. The original went a full forty minutes before bringing in the villain, time that was wisely spent letting viewers get to know our protagonists so their later struggles would matter, but here he’s introduced early and remains for the rest of the film.
Worse, it’s immediately clear that Mick has gone the Freddy Krueger route and transformed from a frightening killer in the shadows to an amusing chatterbox designed to entertain and delight viewers. He doesn’t shut up, and the shtick that worked to make him unpredictable and scary the first time around here is driven into the ground with nonstop wisecracks and other gibberish. Jarratt chews his way through the Outback and entertains when he should be terrifying.
There are issues other than Mick though as in addition to his new role on center stage we’re given a revolving roster of protagonists who don’t last long enough to become people we care about. Paul (Corr) sticks around the longest, but an early action involving a sleeping bag (and everything that follows) marks him as a character that simply makes no sense. And the ending? It’s almost as if McLean realized five minutes before the film wrapped that he didn’t have and ending… abracadabra here’s some onscreen text!
It’s not all bad news though despite everything above. McLean has a bigger budget to play with, and he puts it all to good and exciting use. The vehicular fun is increased culminating in a fantastic set-piece involving a semi truck, and the practical effects work when it comes to the gore and bloodletting are fantastically effective. You can almost smell the wet, perforated flesh. And while I’m generally opposed to CGI and scenes of animal violence, there’s a sequence here involving both of those things (and some kangaroos) that is just shamefully delirious fun.
Wolf Creek 2 is a slick affair, no doubt, and it will most likely appeal to many of the first film’s fans, but it fails by shying away from what worked best last time. There’s not a single scary or affecting frame to be found here. We don’t care what’s happening to these people, we’re laughing at Mick’s one-liners and simply waiting for the next gory money shot. Perhaps there’s a bigger market for that — it’s just unfortunate that McLean had to forgo his previously displayed dramatic concerns and wit to get there.
The Upside: Vehicular sequences are slick and cool; some wonderfully gruesome gore; kangaroo sequence is sick fun
The Downside: No one to root for; Mick talks too damn much; protagonist arrives forty minutes in; ridiculously long Q&A sequence in third act; weak ending
On the Side: McLean’s next film is a supernatural thriller with Blumhouse Productions, Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell.
Wolf Creek 2 is available on VOD starting tomorrow and opens in limited theatrical release on May 16, 2014.