An Australian horror film from neophyte Greg McLean builds high tension through his characters and place in ways that brings back punishing, visceral memories of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hitcher.
It must be said that those not knowing anything about Wolf Creek before planning to attend a screening that it severely opposes what Hollywood does with the genre, perhaps taking a gratuitously wrong turn even an "expert marksman" like McLean might admit to.
"Based on true events" may not have people touring the Outback soon as McLean's road picture is startlingly realistic and lushly photographed (check out the sun-covered waves). Perhaps, the writer-director has culled the "true story" elements from local murders in 1999 in a manner that made something like Open Water rather taut.
There's a blow-out party that introduces us to the Ben (Nathan Phillips), Kristy (Kestie Morassi), and Liz (Cassandra Magrath). Two have a crush on each other and the other doesn't want to feel like a third wheel, so wants to hook up with a bloke. There aren't any significant details into their lives, but these folks are reasonably agreeable.
They head from Broome to visit a huge meteor crater at Wolf Creek National Park. McLean slowly sets out adventure and romance when their car goes kaput and towing help is there in the form of garrulous Mick (John Jarratt), somewhat in the ilk of Paul Hogan. While they rest, Mick is supposedly getting them ready for travel the next morning. But something more perversely tormenting is in store for them, downright unexpectedly tragic by the conclusion.
At its best, Wolf Creek seethes with the chilling desperation felt by some near the climax of The Blair Witch Project. The dialogue-sparse narrative doesn't want viewers to guess notions from UFO's and missing people that would make this the most disquieting episodes of "Survivor" or "Lost" from the sun-drenched bush.
In the end, one wonders about the mind of someone who conjures up this kind of dread, as McLean is more original than recent films like Identity. This circle of fear is ghastly claustrophobic and ultra-violent, a torture more clever and frightful than the Saw films. It's polished filmmaking that succeeds on an unbearably nightmarish level that may have more than a few rethinking their hiking plans, especially in the Land Down Under.