It’s taken almost a decade since his first appearance, but we’re now seeing a concerted effort from co-writer/director to elevate outback serial killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) from chilling once-off menace to genuine, Freddy/Jason-level horror icon. 2014 sees not only the release of Wolf Creek 2, but also a couple of prequel novels that flesh out the back-story of the affably evil ocker assassin. Judging by the former, though, there may not be too much more to tell.
Wolf Creek 2 is essentially Wolf Creek Again. Once more a trio of hapless backpackers are menaced by Taylor and once again constitutions are tested by an impressive amount of bodily mutilation and torture. This time around, the victims du jour are a pair of German backpackers (Shannon Ashlyn and Phillipe Klaus) and a remarkably unlucky English tourist(Ryan Corr) who becomes the object of a gruelling cat and mouse game with Taylor that takes up most of the film’s running time.
Anyone who saw the first film has a fair idea of the tenor of the terror here, so claims of shock and outrage at the violence and sadism on display are misguided; simply put, you know what you’re in for from the get-go. Indeed, the key problem with Wolf Creek 2 is that it’s all a bit too familiar. This time around Taylor is a lot more garrulous, with Jarratt really playing up the character’s ockerism, and McLean clearly has a bigger budget to play with, but the film’s overall shape and intent are identical to the first outing. We don’t get any real insight into Taylor’s background and motives and, a few more corpses littering the desert aside, nothing has changed between the end of Creek 1 and the end of Creek 2.
Still, McLean is an assured director who both knows how to build tension and isn’t too proud to go for an effective jump scare now and again. He also knows and acknowledges his genre history; there’s a narrative bait and switch that’s straight out of Hitchcock, plus an extended sequence where Taylor pursues his victim in a truck that can’t help but bring Spielberg’s Duel to mind.
That sequence is also the best example of the film’s jet-black streak of gallows humour, as Jarratt’s iconic killer ploughs his truck through a large group of another iconic Australian animal, the kangaroo. It’s McLean’s glee at subverting Australian archetypes that really saves both this film and its predecessor – after all, what is Mick Taylor but a human-hunting Crocodile Dundee? However, if we’re going to get more of this character, any further instalments need to do more than just tread water. While enjoyable enough on its own base and brutal terms, Wolf Creek 2 feels like a placeholder. Wolf Creek 3, if it ever comes into existence, needs to give us something new.
BY TRAVIS JOHNSON