Wolf Creek 2

WOLF CREEK 2. John Jarratt, Ryan Corr, Shannon Ashlyn, Philippe Klaus. Directed by Greg McLean. 106 minutes. Rated MA15+ (Strong bloody violence and coarse language).

A notable increase in budget cannot help this sequel live up to the standard of its predecessor.

We are reintroduced to outback dwelling, pig shooting serial-killer Mick Taylor (Jarratt) as he methodically and brutally murders two crooked policemen. The bloodletting then slows for a moment as we meet two German backpackers who take a hike to the ridge of the Wolf Creek meteor crater – viewers familiar with the first film will guess what happens next after Taylor stumbles upon their campsite. In the ensuing melee, English tourist Paul Hammersmith (Ryan Corr) is drawn into a sadistic game of cat and mouse with this xenophobic lunatic bent on eradicating foreigners from his backcountry domain.

Before launching into any specific assessment of the film, a serious warning is required. Wolf Creek 2 is extreme and explicit in its violence (both seen and heard) and language – viewers ought to take great caution before attending a screening.

While the first film took significant steps to introduce the protagonists before they fell into the villain’s hands, this follow-up forgoes the creation of audience sympathy in favour of an increased body count. We enjoy at most two minutes of screen time with Corr’s jovial Paul before he enters Taylor’s crosshairs, so while he flees and fights for his life, the audience has no relationship with the character to ensure any sense of empathy. This purposeful lack of a moral compass become more and more disturbing as the atrocities committed against Paul worsen, and yet those in the audience are encouraged to feel oddly compassionless for him and his awful plight. Although Corr does well with an English schoolboy accent and much grimacing, the screenplay enables him to generate little connection.

The second key problem with the film lies in the presentation of Mick Taylor himself, who is this second film’s focus. The promotion of Taylor from antagonist to the centre for the sequel is not an unusual choice in the canon of horror films, however the script misses its chance to shed greater light on his character as one would hope. If anything, it only serves to make him more of a cypher. The new facets of the character introduced are that, in addition to his psychotic hatred for tourists, he is also a vicious homophobe and implied to be a rapist, without adding any modicum of backstory or justification. He is as he is, well, just because. Detestable to the extreme, Jarratt plays the murderer almost too well. His ocker accent and ease with sudden brutality tap into a seedy, normally unrecognised masculine underside of the Australian psyche – part of the reason the first film was so relevant and resonant.

Although overwhelmed by the human side of the picture, the Australian landscape practically steals the show. Gorgeously framed and lensed, scenes of stark beauty sit uneasily alongside the horrific torture. Although Mick Taylor is the anti-advertisement Tourism Australia likely still has nightmares about, Greg McLean and his cinematographer Toby Oliver try their best to make up for it and the rolling hills and dusty plains almost seem worth taking the risk to visit. Almost. The aforementioned budget expansion is evident foremost in the deployment of a number of impressively executed stunts. Without wanting to provide any spoilers, during a passage recalling Spielberg’s Duel there is one exceptional use of a big rig which reflects the high quality achievable in action genre flicks from today’s Australian film industry.

Given the box office success of Wolf Creek 2, it may be inevitable that we will soon be enduring a third film in the franchise. Let’s just hope that franchise writer and director McLean remembers that it’s not all about the gory destination; what really makes discerning audiences care is the insidious journey before we get there.

Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out February 20.

Roadshow Films.