Slasher films have to be the worst genre in the filmmaking industry, but I was pleasantly surprised by Greg McLean's Wolf Creek, a vicious account of three post-college friends who take a road trip across Australia to a murderously unhappy ending. The critics are almost evenly divided at Rottentomatoes (52% approve). Liz Braun, representing those who "have no affection or respect" for slasher films, grudgingly admits there are at least some good things about the film. Spence D. says the convincing terror makes the film an "interactive experience, something so few of the horror films tossed out onto the public ever achieve". This is quite true: most slashers, especially the lame PG-13 variety, involve the victimizing of teenage air-heads whom we actually want to see get killed for their stupidity, yet they manage to prevail against their tormenter anyway. Wolf Creek involves us with sympathetic characters whose pain and terror becomes our own, and the story does not have a happy ending.
On the negative side, Tyler Hanley opines that "viewers eager to embrace 90 minutes of footage featuring women being brutalized, beaten, stalked and slaughtered may want to consider some serious introspection". Such judgmentalism is misplaced: a good horror film is supposed to be nasty. Roger Ebert gives an amazing "zero-star" rating, complaining about the film's supposed misogyny and "sadistic celebration of pain and cruelty". James Berardinelli rightly counters Ebert:
"To slam Wolf Creek as a 'sadistic celebration of pain and cruelty' (as Roger Ebert did) is to misunderstand the genre. That description, loaded though it may be, could be used to describe more than 50% of the horror movies to have come along since Halloween re-invented the genre in the late 1970s... If the film evokes squeamishness, it has done its job. You're not supposed to sit through a film like this placidly munching popcorn. The reaction is intended to be visceral."What I liked about Wolf Creek is that nothing bad or scary happens at all during the first half of the film. It's just a tour of the Australian Outback, taking in the sights, enjoying the friends' camaraderie. Most films bring on the horror too early, and on undeveloped characters we aren't even given time to care about. McLean takes 52 minutes to warm up, ominously building tension, and when hell finally breaks loose we feel the victims' pain with a vengeance. I was left very disturbed.
Wolf Creek isn't Hitchcockian in achievement, by any means, but it does what a film like this is supposed to do, tapping into our fears about psychopaths on a serious level. If you like to be frightened but have given up on the slasher genre, give it a try. Here's the film's website.