[19 May 2014]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“Don Bradman, bitch.”
—Paul (Ryan Corr)
“In what year did the British settle in Australia?” Sweaty and grim and horrific, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) faces his victim. The young British tourist Paul (Ryan Corr) couldn’t have guessed he’d end up here, strapped to a chair in a basement in Australia’s outback, answering quiz questions the serial killer seems to be making up as he goes along. But you know from the start of Wolf Creek 2 that this scary place is indeed his likeliest destination.
Arriving in theaters almost nine years after Wolf Creek, Greg McLean’s sequel revisits more than a few themes and visuals, including Mick’s particular antipathy for tourists, young, tanned beauties especially. Paul fits that profile, and like those who’ve come before him, he’s something of a random selection for Mick, who travels the roads in his old truck, packed with guns and cutlery and a storage container for the bloody body parts he collects. Unlike them, though, he doesn’t come with a love interest, only an accidental encounter with a girl who—in another movie—might have been a love interest.
Running counter to at least a few generic expectations helped to make McLean’s first feature seem new. The formula for slasher films has yucky brutes chasing after nubile kids, leading to bloody murders, sometimes shambolic, other times precise, always gruesome and bloody, monster who are eventually thwarted by a Final Girl or Boy. Because franchises like to bring back popular predators, this thwarting rarely means the monster is defeated, only that someone gets away. Wolf Creek‘s departure from this formula made it notorious, but also puts the next film in a predicament: is the way to challenge formula now not to challenge formula or to challenge formula in the same way as before or find another way to challenge formula?
It’s a problem with which Wolf Creek 2 wrestles visibly. Early on, it restructures one of the first film’s strategies, deploying one Australian stereotype, in which Mick is an a jokey evocation and inversion of Crocodile Dundee, to get to another, Mad Max, as Mick uses his infamous truck to hunt down, crash into, and terrorize his new victims, beginning with a pair of cops (Shane Cpnnor and Ben Gerrard) who have the temerity to pull him over for speeding. This chance meeting, a matchup of bullies, ends as you know it must, with Mick the king bully, wielding his old-school rifle and serrated knife with a banal, utterly cocky expertise (he likes to whistle “Waltzing Matilda” too).
Following this initial banging, prolonged, and carefully cut car chase, the film produces several more (one at night allows for multiple angles on the truck’s prodigious headlights), including Mick’s raucous pursuit of Paul after he picks up Katarina (Shannon Ashlyn), a German backpacker who escapes Mick’s clutches as such girls are prone to do, at least before they’re caught again.
That Paul picks her up at all—standing in the road, bloody and hysterical—is in itself worth noting, as the drivers in this area, apparently renowned for lost tourists, regularly pass by pedestrians, even those desperately looking for help (Never, never stop,” Mick advises. “Save you a whole lot of trouble”). Whether this is because those ride-seekers might be the killer or they might draw attention from the myth-legendary killer is hard to say: either way, long, wide shots of endless road and dry grassland suggest this Outback, Mick’s Outback, is definitively unforgiving.
If it isn’t precisely post-apocalyptic, as in Road Warrior, this bleak, barren vista reflects the killer’s internal workings, his sense of ownership, his fear and fury at anyone who’s vulnerable, who’s different, who’s not him. That he likes to eat his victims, as well as keep mementos, makes him a familiar sort of movie killer, grisly and fearsome, but also unexplained. This too is formula and anti-formula at the same time, the monster who is fundamentally not you, and safely not his victims. His monstrosity is equal parts psycho-masculinity and psycho-nationalism, a mix that speaks to histories of oppression, in the US, in Australia, and in Mick’s own mind.
“In what year did the British start deporting convicts to Australia?” he asks. When Paul offers a correct answer, Mick regroups, asking his hostage now to articulate what’s in his mind. “Why did the British deport convicts to Australia?” Why indeed? Why does any person commit violence against another? It’s a question Wolf Creek 2 cannot answer.