I absolutely loved Wolf Creek when it was released in 2005. I absolutely hated Wolf Creek 2 when it was released in 2014. Tonally, these movies were polar opposites, with indie-thriller used to sketch the first, and a ridiculous, excessive, and quite standard horror creeping into the latter – a disappointing change, despite it being hard to not at least be entertained by John Jarrat’s larrikin outback psycho Mick Taylor.
The mix of outrageous Aussie humour with outright, and genuinely terrifying, horror proved to be a winner, and both films made a huge impact on domestic and international markets, essentially making this the most celebrated Aussie horror franchise of all time and re-sparking interest in this country’s unique outback landscape as a distinctive set for horror films. It helped shape a genre and paved the way for excellent Australian horror like Justin Kurzel’s extremely disturbing Snowtown, and the more recent entries of The Babadook, Rouge, The Loved Ones, and Wyrmwood. Needless to say, Wolf Creek holds a disconcerting but important place in contemporary Aussie cinema. It was like The Hills Have Eyes but with a belligerent bogan instead of killer mutants.
Now Australian based subscription video on demand (SVOD) service Stan has made it possible for the lore of Wolf Creek to reform, bringing Mick Taylor back for what will be a six-part miniseries as part of Stan’s growing original content program. All six parts of this event series will be available this coming Thursday on May 12th.
Ahead of the premiere I was able to take a peek at the first full episode of the series, which presented us with a very different take – an interesting evolution, if you will – on the Wolf Creek universe which successfully transposes Mick Taylor’s reign of terror into a binge-worthy drama-thriller – something which would have easily been a disaster.
As mentioned above, the tone of both Wolf Creek films are at the opposite sides of a spectrum, and the TV show – as far as I could tell from the first episode – falls somewhere in the middle, thankfully leaning closer to the first. It’s understated with a sense of patience thanks to the extended format (and the lack of pressure to keep the audience hooked from ad-break to ad-break). Creator and co-Director Greg McLean seems to want to use this landscape to it’s full potential, constantly throwing in stark reminders that this outback can be a seemingly inescapable, remote existence with very few points of safety for those who travel between towns. Though, there’s still a tinge of exaggeration to it all which pulls in elements of Wolf Creek 2, but it’s all balanced quite well.
The main departure from the film versions is a sense of openness which wasn’t possible without a format like this, subverting some expectations with the introduction of Lucy Fry’s Eve Thorogood, who is a recovering addict dragged out on a family trip through the outback. It’s not quite clear why Eve’s parents feel some forced family time is at all a good idea, but at least it brings them into a believable meet-up with the show’s big bad.
Taylor saves Eve’s brother from a crocodile attack in a dramatic fashion and quickly befriends the family, cracking expected, inappropriate jokes before seguing quite seamlessly into stab-happy, psycho mode and murdering Eve’s family in cold blood before burning their camper van and taking off in his unnervingly casual way, leaving Eve for dead, assuming that the crocs finished the job.
Jarrat’s subtle way of balancing Mick’s faux-friendliness with the crass, self-righteous aggression he has towards backpackers is a testament to what the veteran actor brings to the table here. This nuance is what made Taylor such a despicable but fascinating character in the first film, so this being highlighted once again speaks well for the show’s potential.
Eve’s survival, unbeknownst to Taylor, is what drives the series forward, eventually introducing more characters – such as Dustin Clare’s Detective Sullivan Hill – as she makes the decision to pursue Mick as opposed to recover from the shock and return home. Reversing this game of cat-and-mouse brings a fresh angle to Wolf Creek, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out; how long the crew can sustain something like this over six hours (which remains to be seen).
While this episode was more concerned with setting these pieces in play and establishing the subversive storyline, there is also the potential to explore Mick’s psychology a bit more, with the cast hopefully used to draw out more than just his laconic humour and haunting cackle. I do expect there is more use for the undeniably evil character than just upping his body count, an unfortunate need for the show to please all types of viewers, which results in a fairly boring end to an otherwise great introduction.
The potential for visual storytelling is also vast; the crew treating the outback as a spectacle while also painting it as a massive threat – very much a character in itself. City scenes are thankfully used to break this all up though, proving necessary and giving characters like Eve and Sullivan a bit more breathing space while Mick is off doing what he does best. The scope makes this as big and cinematic as Wolf Creek 2, just without the need to accentuate Australian stereotypes via cringeworthy dialogue.
Where the cast and crew takes this is anyone’s guess, but the first part of this miniseries is an impressive and interesting spin, when it could have easily just been an introduction to a six-hour, Wolf Creek 2-style horror-fest. They obviously want to do this the right way, especially since Stan’s original content program is still fairly young, and for that I have a feeling that Wolf Creek may just turn out to be exactly what this SVOD needs.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
All six episodes of Wolf Creek will be released exclusively on Stan this Thursday, May 12th. For more information on Stan and to sign-up click HERE.
Headline image: Matt Nettheim