It’s been nine years since the brutal, nihilistic Wolf Creek was unleashed on audiences. A hit in its native Australia, Greg McLean’s film became notorious for its graphic scenes of torture. Reactions were predictably mixed – a rare “F” CinemaScore rating, balanced by vocal supporters – but the buzz wasn’t enough to generate box office, or sustained interest, internationally. Though the film included some interesting twists on horror clichés, its merits were mostly lost in a flurry of amputated fingers and severed spinal cords.
Now comes a sequel that treads on similar ground while also attempting to broaden the brand and re-package its formerly shadowy menace as a gregarious horror movie icon. The efforts prove fruitless, and Wolf Creek 2 comes off as a desperate attempt to build a franchise for the sake of building a franchise. As with the first installment, the Outback landscapes are beautifully shot, but the sameness in the shocks feels stale, and a sharper focus on killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) only serves to demystify the threat.
First up on the killing machine’s hit list are macho cops who take pleasure in harassing our rugged wanderer. The prologue establishes the viciousness of Mick, but is somewhat off-putting in how it presents him as a misguided vigilante rather than coldblooded murderer. When German backpackers Rutger (Phillipe Klaus) and Katarina (Shannon Ashlyn) brazenly ignore a “no camping” sign at Wolf Creek Crater, the Aussie watchdog swoops in to dish out horrifying penalties. Worldly British traveler Paul (Ryan Corr) becomes involved in Katarina’s attempted escape, drawing him into Mick’s twisted life. In Paul, Mick finds a worthy challenger in a game of wits that goes from the desolate Outback roads to an over-the-top underground lair befitting an accomplished slayer, complete with dripping water, booby traps, and victims in various states of decomposition.
There’s no way to completely gloss over the fact that Mick is a maniac, but McLean shows affection for his character by providing a motive for disposing of jerky police officers and dismembering supercilious tourists. The first iteration of Mick Taylor was purely animalistic, a bogeyman that crystalized our fears of exploring unknown frontiers. Now he’s a proud patriot, doing his self-assigned duty to clean up his beloved homeland. Jarratt does a fine job of straddling the line between broad caricature and human monster, but the edge is smoothed this time around. He talks a lot, laughs a lot, and spends just as much time explaining himself as he does disposing of those he deems undesirable. It all feels like a sales job to elevate Mick in the annals of horror movie idols, but gray sideburns and a flannel shirt aren’t as saleable as, say, a hockey mask or a clawed leather glove. Not to mention the adherence to the excessive suffering of victims that not only marks the series, but completely destroys the allure of its central figure.
Wolf Creek 2 is a misguided recalibration of the first film, glorifying its monster and cranking the action up to 11 to seduce genre fans. Antics that include the use of a semi as a guided missile or an instrument to mow down a troop of kangaroos (the latter scene scored to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) look slick and add to the anarchy, but are just noisy asides. There’s a layer of bombast slathered on top of the gore that removes the sense of dread and makes for a tonally confusing, half-baked idea of a slasher film that is just as forgettable as its slasher.