Wolf Creek (Greg Mclean, 2005) is a distinctly Australian horror film. Hyped as a type of The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999) at film festivals and liberally “swiped” from famous Australian serial killer cases, the film received mixed to unfavorable reviews on its international release (though it was received more positively in its home country). Regardless of its critical and commercial fate, Wolf Creek does speak to the international viewer about specific trends in recent Australian film production. It also keys into primal fears brought to light by such horrifying cases as the Bradley John Murdoch investigation in the Northern Territory.
Wolf Creek is set in the vast outback and thrusts the viewer into a largely unknown abyss of terror. The film is creepily effective, the villain (John Jarratt as Mick Taylor) distinctly Australian, and it is arguably only in the milieu of the Australian outback that the filmmakers could achieve the film’s chilling effect. The villain is a sort of bushman gone “wacko” and a “Crocodile Dundee” with more than just a few screws loose.
If we look at the film’s most effective scene, we can observe that it pokes fun at preconceived notions that international viewers might hold about Australia. Two young women and a young man are stranded and picked up by a seemingly benign outback figure. He tows them to a camp and the four sit around a fire sharing water and conversation. The young man asks, “You must love it, I mean the freedom”. The man simply says “What?”, but the young man persists, “You get to cruise around the bush saying cool things like ‘that’s not a knife. That’s a knife’”. His response grants viewers their first glimpse into the bushman’s deranged mind. He simply gives a steely glare and shows that he is not amused, and is more than a little unhinged. But in this particular moment the film is being reflexive. Not even the young man, who is Australian, can identify with the isolation of the outback and some of the dark forces that the film claims exists there. The feeling of being poked fun at by “civilised” city folk seems to irk the bushman, and this establishes the only vague resemblance of a motive that the film will offer.
To understand this scene fully, we must examine what the character of Mick “Crocodile” Dundee signifies both locally and internationally as an Australia icon. To many Australians, he is a charade and a patronising confection marketed to international viewers. To the bushman of Wolf Creek, his characterisation smacks of the patronising attitudes city folk often hold towards rural folk. In the world of cinema, this characters and its ubiquity pinpoints our comfort in placing each region or country in the world into a convenient and hard-to-shake stereotype. Wolf Creek raises all these issues in this two-minute scene.
Wolf Creek, while far from being a cinematic masterpiece, is a significant Australian contribution to the recent trend of realistic horror. It is also a useful and resonant snapshot of modern day Australia, particularly in relation to its self-referential treatment of pop-culture stereotypes and its exploration of the vastness of the Australian landscape and what that means to the national imagination. Finally, it shows the impact that true-crime events from a particular region can have on cultural perceptions both at home and abroad.