Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wolf Creek 2 (2014) review



John Jarratt (Mick Taylor), Ryan Corr (Paul Hammersmith), Shannon Ashlyn (Katarina Schmidt), Philippe Klaus (Rutger Enqvist), Gerard Kennedy (Jack), Annie Byron (Lil)

Directed by Greg McLean

"In this world there's people like me... and there's people like you. And people like me eat people like you for breakfast and shit'em out. You're nothin' but foreign vermin... a stinkin' introduced species. And it's up to my kind to wipe your kind out. And that makes me the winner... which makes you..."

The Short Version: The sequel to the cruel, if character driven WOLF CREEK (2005) has no plot whatsoever -- unless you consider near nonstop torture and gore as a narrative substitute. Still, it's very well shot, photographed and acted; although the merciless violence is a major turn-off till about 45 minutes in when it becomes a chase picture, and something of substance finally happens shortly thereafter. This substance is equally nasty, but it allows us a look into the (black) heart of Mick Taylor and what makes Mick tick. And kill. Ostensibly a remake of the first film, it's double the blood, guts, and Mick Taylor. Your tolerance towards twice the pervasive brutality will be a deciding factor in whether you plan to visit this Outback Hell a second time, or bypass it entirely.

After two German tourists have a brutal run-in with Outback serial killer Mick Taylor, British vacationer Paul Hammersmith intervenes, ending up in the middle of Mick's human hunt, and quickly becomes the savage Australian madman's new quarry. Chasing him over miles of territory, Paul is caught, tortured, and promised a gruesome death till he gambles on a game of wits against his captor in order to survive both him, and his underground hell, and the ghastly secrets it harbors.

In 2005 Greg McLean burst on the scene with the powerfully nasty Aussie horror WOLF CREEK. Among the glut of so-called 'Torture Porn' cinema, it was one of the best considering you spent a good deal of time with the victims-to-be; a trio of likable young adults. A good chunk of that films success was due to actor John Jarratt's mad, unhinged performance as serial killer Mick Taylor. Based on the real life Ivan Milat backpacker killings, Jarratt arguably became one of the screens most evil personas in horror. His jovial, pseudo charming exterior harbored an intense hatred for people -- particularly outsiders -- whose unremitting rage was boundless. That McLean showed no mercy towards the innocents in his cast was a breath of fresh air. The horror in WOLF CREEK was truly horrible to watch; a testament to the writers for including enough characterization that made these ghoulish scenes all the more disturbing. No such luck in this sequel that ramps up everything else -- tossing in homages from a variety of sources. There's nothing wrong with this, of course; it's just difficult to watch at times, making one wish there was a better balance with all the stylish, gore-drenched flourishes hammering the screen every few minutes.

Exposition is scarce, and lengthy stretches are focused on John Jarratt's psychopathic Mick Taylor. Suspense is sacrificed for giving him a ton of screen time; so much time, you get the feeling this is an attempt to turn him into a horror franchise icon. He's even more vile this second go round; and prone to a Freddy Kruegerish stand-up schtick; yet despite that, the violence is so repugnant, these attempts at "lightening the mood" fail spectacularly. Extra Jarratt isn't a bad thing, yet this hard focus on endless scenes of gore is moderately off-putting. 

The opening bit of savagery where Mick is pulled over by two bored cops with nothing better to do contains a promising bit of tension that quickly dissipates from there once a large chunk of the film becomes a remake of the first movie. It's not till the latter half that things take an interesting turn when Paul is captured after an extended chase sequence that mimics Spielberg's DUEL (1971); tossing in a blackly comical splattering of a herd of kangaroo to the accompaniment of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' feels out of place, though. Old westerns figure into McLean's vision, too. Some of the shots of the wide expanse of the Australian Outback at the beginning recall imagery right out of Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968). Now about that last half of the movie....

Paul awakens in the monsters lair -- an underground charnel house littered with tortured bodies, mangled corpses, and assorted grisly human hunting trophies. Since he's such a "smart cunt", Paul is allegedly promised his freedom if he can answer five out of ten questions on Ozzy history. This lengthy sequence is one of the best in the entire movie as it shows Paul pretending to be Mick's 'mate' in what amounts to a potentially futile escape attempt. Regardless of his chumming up to madman Mick, the crazy bloke nonchalantly explains that for every wrong answer he'll grind down a finger. Mind you, he doesn't wish to simply cut off a finger, but GRIND THEM DOWN. So how many fingers do you think Paul comes away with? You'll just have to see the movie.

The chase segment in Mick's underground hellhole is a highlight, too. It's here where the special effects crew and other technicians really get to show their stuff. Scattered among this Haunted House of carnage are living, if half-crazed victims, and countless mutilated bodies; not to mention the booby traps to prevent escape. Those hungry dogs Mick kept caged in the first picture encore as well.

Characterizational connections might be nil, but there's no shortage of gore; most all of which is practical effects. Mick skins and "cleans" humans much like cows and pigs in a slaughterhouse. There's no telling what he does with all the spare bits and pieces, but we can use our imagination. Aside from an overabundance of dismemberments and dollops of viscera there's an unusual amount of vehicular stunts; and when Mick isn't running down cops in his truck, or commandeering an 18 wheeler to taunt his prey, he's tracking victims on horseback and brandishing a whip!

As stated above, McLean abandons most of the exposition that marked the first journey into Wolf Creek. However, taking a look at the 24 minutes of deleted scenes (of a nearly 2 hour movie) on the DVD, a lot of additional dialog -- mostly with our two German tourists -- was in fact filmed, but was, if you'll pardon the expression, GUTTED for the sake of screaming, torture, and gore. Refreshingly, all their scenes are spoken in German with accompanying subtitles. On a few occasions, they speak English, but this is one area where this reviewer is thankful that McLean went this route for that extra layer of realism. Unfortunately, some of these cut scenes would have made WOLF CREEK 2 a far more compelling movie than it is.

McLean does play with the audience a bit by pulling a PSYCHO (1960) with these characters. The script also introduces other individuals that don't live long enough for us to get an idea as to who they are other than a name. It hurts the picture to a degree, but if you go into this expecting a rollercoaster of cruelty and graphic gore, you will get more than your money's worth. 

With that said, it's difficult to imagine another one of these without the participation of Jarratt as the killer. He's incredible here, peppering his character with layers never broached in the earlier movie. His existence was previously ambiguous, and this time, there's an unrealistic, over the top Jason Voorhees level of sophistication afforded him that clearly aims to mold the character into super-serial-killer-star status. Mick Taylor comes off as not only off his rocker, but a racist man who hates anyone not Australian. He refers to Germans as Nazi's; one kraut victim (as he also refers to them) as a nigger because of the size of his manhood (cut segment found in DVD extras); and reveals to a bound and tied Paul that he's not particularly fond of the British, either; or any foreign "intruders" to Australia. Paul turns the tables on him by referring to Mick as a faggot after the maniac threatens to dress him up like a woman and rape him. Naturally Mick doesn't like Paul's inference.

Jarratt has been acting since the mid 1970s. Some of his genre credits include NEXT OF KIN (1982) and two crocodile horrors, DARK AGE (1987) and ROGUE (2007); the latter title also directed by McLean. Jarratt was the lead star in DARK AGE and took a supporting role in the later picture. It's interesting to compare his earlier heroic role with his later despicable turn as Mick Taylor. His approach to tackling his WOLF CREEK role is unusual (revealed on the DVD extras), but makes for an effective portrayal. Since then, the actor has carved out a niche for himself as a performer to watch for on these shores.

WOLF CREEK 2 opened #1 in its home country, and ended up as a moderate domestic success. It went straight to DVD here. Until about 60 minutes in, I began questioning what the point of it all was. Whether it's intentional or not, WOLF CREEK 2 and others like it are just more flashy throwback attempts at imitating grueling exploitation of past decades without the raw power, grittiness, and scorched film stock of those cult curios. Even with a larger budget, and a polished sheen in all departments, it feels empty. The additional exposition given to Jarratt's character isn't quite enough to make this a great sequel, but it is an entertaining one. Outside of that, it's little more than a souped up retread with some added bells and whistles. It worked for America's horror icons, so it remains to be seen if McLean's series has legs to last a few more sequels. If that sounds appealing, than revisiting the isolation and hopelessly downbeat atmosphere of Mick Taylor's back yard is your type of vacation.

This review is representative of the Image/RLJ Entertainment DVD.

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