Can You Dig It?: WOLF CREEK: THE SERIES
CAN YOU DIG IT! Is a recurring column where we will tell you what chilling films and spooky TV shows are currently on our wavelengths!
I remember when I first saw Wolf Creek. It was my senior year in high school, so I was pretty inundated with the horror genre at this point. I was also as equally inundated into musical theatre so it made for very interesting Christmas presents. And, for some reason, Wolf Creek came out on Christmas Day 2005. If anything it did debut as the number one horror film of that weekend, if you completely discount King Kong as a horror adjacent film, yet that still means it ranked number twelve overall. Wolf Creek is HARDLY a cheery movie to watch anytime, even less during a time when families come together to celebrate a cheerful day.
But there I was at the Jewel 16, with my family, seeing Wolf Creek.
I don’t even remember if I was the one that suggested it! Frankly the Australian slasher sounds like it would be a TOUGH SELL to anyone outside of my immediate family, but I suppose I just didn’t know how to read a room yet and there we were. I remember being extremely unfazed by the brutality, and to be honest, found it all rather tedious. (Authors Note: I clearly like Wolf Creek now, but I had just watched my first Argento and Cronenberg, cut me some slack!) But that wasn’t the same reaction my family had to it. My mother aside, who also shared my affinity for horror, I clearly remember seat squirming and then afterwards the words “torture”, “sick”, “twisted”. Clearly the violence, the nihilism, had a deep effect on them even though they swore it was awful and they would never watch it again. Greg McLean’s horror film has succeeded in being an extension of Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty”, where in the extreme is brought to the forefront of the action to illicit an emotional response from its’ audience. In my families visceral reaction to the film, they inadvertently make a hard argument for the artistic merit and validity of what genre pictures can bring to the cinematic art form. In essence, it’s importance. Roger Ebert said of the film “There is a line, and this movie crosses it.”. We just simply want to see what’s over there.
Wolf Creek, the TV series, premiered on Stan (think Australian Hulu) in 2016 and then debuted in the States on Pop TV (Authors Note: yes, I had to look up what Pop TV was too) months later, but now that it is streaming on Shudder it feels like it’s having its right and proper introduction to the horror community. The series, like the films before it, pick up anytime, anywhere in the Australian outback. The only constant? A pale blue truck and a pig hunter named Mick Taylor. After the brutal slaughter of her family, Eve (Lucy Fry) stays in Australia and with the case files of Mick’s past victims she blazes a trail of revenge across the outback in search of the mad bastard.
If anyone asks you, “How does slasher work in a television format?” point them to Wolf Creek. It’s a fast paced road movie once we shift into gear, each episode being a new location where Eve is on the hunt for Mick who is on the hunt for pretty much whatever he bumps into. With the show clocking in at six episodes, it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome or completely deplete its audience. It’s still a bleak show y’all. While the brutality may be lessened by some questionable CG blood, carnage, and other minor quibbles it still packs a nasty punch.
The plot may sound rote but what amplifies the immediacy of Wolf Creek is its performance. Lucy Fry, who plays Eve, tackles a role built for Linda Hamilton with gusto, even getting the closest thing as I could have ever imagined to a Karate Kid moment in the show. Her character, too, represents the hero that we all really need right now: the no holds barred ass kicking woman who can and will LITERALLY pierce you to the wall with a spear. Yes, it reminds you of Linda Hamilton.
Though in a world full of “Yaaas!” one “Naaaaaas” needs to be pointed out because it was like a sore thumb. The creators decided that they needed to put in an attempted rape scene, follow by an even more problematic scene between the victim and her attacker. Now, in the confines of a story where sexual violence is the catalyst for the plot, an argument can be made for the inclusion of said scene. (Authors Note: Sexual Violence on screen for Jacob is where he draws the line.) But, in this instance, outside of showing both Alex’s resourcefulness and compassion they...just haven’t we moved past THIS tired trope? The only way that we can prove that a woman is strong is if she bests a rapist? It may be no wonder that a large swath of powerful men don’t understand why a person may feel helpless to leave a sexually dangerous situation, in their minds they should have already grasped the weapon they had hidden carefully under their jacket and become a “good guy with a gun!” Yeah, no, we’re good with never having rape used as a device to service a narrative ever again. THANKS!
This then leads into the more problematic scene where, after shooting her attacker with the pistol she actually did have hiding under her jacket, yet rather than be this empowering moment for her as a woman, she instantly covers her mouth in shocked panic and runs to the attackers aide, while he morphs from predator to buffoon cursing and howling over his flesh wound. As she patches up his leg she asks him “What did I ever do to you?”. A poignant and heavy question, one I’m sure has crossed the mind of every person who has been assaulted before. His response I’m sure is unsurprising to women. “Well. Look at you, sexy ass. You shouldn’t bloody advertise if you’re not selling.” he tells a woman who just had her family slaughtered and was left for dead. Is the response accurate for the type of immoral monster trash fire that thinks assaulting women is ok? Sadly, yeah. Is this the type of scene we need in our films right now? Oh, no. We don’t get to live in a world anymore that is willingly deaf to the lack of three dimensional representation of women in film over the past century. The creators had an opportunity here and they sadly squandered it. It doesn’t even require that much, just simply don’t have your rape survivor be compassionate to the rapist. We don’t need that story right now. (Authors Note: Outside of those two scenes, I gotta say they do a bang up job giving Eve a great character and Lucy Fry kicks butt, but you gotta call a spade a spade even amongst allies)
Of course Mick murders him later and we are all supposed to cheer, but by the time it comes it’s already too late. The opportunity was in their grasp to make a really astute statement about sexual violence, or, well...ANYTHING. The slate was blank. And it unfortunately was left that way.
But let’s face it, the real star here is John Jarratt and the man deserves it. Mick throughout the film series has been compelling villain that in a short amount of time has started to propel him to being one of the “New Classic” icons. But to understand how he got there, we have to ask the question:
“Is Mick the tongue in cheek horror villain we needed post 9/11?”
To illustrate my point we have to look at another product of Australian film: Saw. With its self-fashioned anti-hero John Kramer, who kidnaps and sets up traps to punish those who do not cherish their lives, the film beckons us to question rather what Jigsaw is doing is right or wrong. It’s hard not to see the parallels to the political climate of 2004. The country was asking the question, “Was our government right to use methods of torture?” With Saw, alleviating the blame from John Kramer muddies the debate as to whether the deplorable actions by the Bush administration were just. To argue, yes, Kramer’s intents were never meant to kill but cure his victims and again to argue, yes, a government's extreme methods of interrogation could possibly get important intel that can save countless lives. But, of course, and it’s a bummer that it must still be said, torture and abuse is never the answer. Just because we love horror doesn’t make us garbage monsters. But with Mick Taylor, his snarling drawl, slicked back pompadour, and the biggest cock of the walk this side of the outback he feels almost gleefully American. And while watching John Jarratt unabashedly chew the scenery is a joy, McLean makes it clear time and again you shouldn’t be walking out of the movie identifying with the villain, however fun he is to watch.
It’s this fine line that really makes Mick such a fascinating character throughout two films and a TV series. In horror we are accustomed to our paragons, from Dracula to Freddy, characters that we can either see ourselves in or at least cheerfully root against. We loved to hate Jason, but we could emotionally connect with Frankenstein’s Monster. But what do we do with Mick? I argue that the character sits closer to Hannibal Lecter in the pantheon of icons. The things he does are unflinchingly despicable, but the way he does them fascinate us to no end. We want to watch him with the same open mind as a psychiatrist to a patient, craving a peek behind a curtain into a forbidden room. It’s what makes him timeless, like all the rest.
Like The Wire and Breaking Bad before it, you need to take a break after watching Wolf Creek. It’s a bleak world to visit, despite being darkly funny and filled with thrilling moments, but you’ll want to decompress. Go to the beach. Play with your cat. Watch old episodes of 30 Rock at the least. But definitely do what all of Mick’s victims never get to: escape Australia. But you must visit.
An addendum: With the original WC being likened to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the red comedy of Wolf Creek 2 along with the underground lair set decorated with bright colorful lights feeling peeled directly from the underbelly of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, could a television series be the most fitting avenue for this beloved franchise to steer? With the success, both artistically and critically of Hannibal, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The last few entries in the series have not caught the same lightening that even Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 were able to achieve. But with time, and the right story, the rising tension that a longer format can achieve in this day and age would befit Chainsaw. Even taking a cue from the Wolf Creek series, simply have a detective on the bloody trail of the Sawyer clan across a long stretch of Texas. We don’t need to explore Leatherface’s backstory anymore, as we’ve seen in the past decade, as it doesn’t connect with audiences. What does? A little mystery, a little action, but ultimately that unnerving tension that happens when the air stills before a storm rolls over the Texas hills, a chainsaw revving, and a masked madman on the loose.