It took writer-director Greg McLean almost nine years to mount a sequel to his hair-raising, furiously uncompromising 2005 thriller "Wolf Creek
," but the filmmaker's uncanny ability to recapture the same horrifyingly gritty, reality-based tone is in evidence immediately. The sordid exploits of sociopathic, xenophobic Outbacker Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), loosely modeled after the so-called "Backpacker Murders" of convicted serial killer Ivan Milat in 1990s New South Wales, Australia, feel heinously authentic because so much of them were. In lieu of a gradual slow-burn pace that gives way to overridingly stark terror, though, McLean knows that viewers will already be privy to who Mick is and accordingly wastes no time here jumping right into the carnage. If "Wolf Creek
" took its time with its characters before sending them into harm's way, "Wolf Creek 2" develops its protagonists through the horrors they face, watching them as they struggle to survive against almost-certain premature doom. A 106-minute game of cat and mouse where no one is safe, McLean's second installment is fearless in the depths it plunders, very, very nearly matching the original in terms of its disturbing vitality and ultimate prolonged urgency.
Young German couple Katarina (Shannon Ashlyn) and Rutger (Phillipe Klaus) are backpacking across Australia, taking in the sights. Following a stop at Wolf Creek Crater, they pay no attention to the "no camping" signs and decide to spend the night in the park before hitchhiking to the nearest town. It is this fateful decision that puts them directly in the clutches of Mick Taylor, a human monster with a taste for slaughtering "foreign vermin" interloping on his territory. This insatiable pursuit for prey eventually leads him to British tourist Paul Hammersmith (Ryan Corr), who makes the wrong decision in trying to help imperiled stranger Katarina. "You forgot the first rule of the Outback," Mick tells him, "You never, ever stop."
Like a terrible dream that one cannot awake from, "Wolf Creek 2" throws Rutger and Katarina, and later Paul, straight into a hellish ordeal where escape routes are few amidst a wide-open desert expanse. A phantom of the desolate backcountry and a boogeyman of the macabre, Mick Taylor is as terrifying as any flesh-and-blood cinematic creation in memory. Appearing to be entirely sane and yet unrelentingly psychopathic in his actions, he prowls the highways searching for tourists to torture and mutilate. It is a supremely unpleasant topic, but director Greg McLean treats it with such remarkable realism and tautly wound ferocity that it is nearly impossible to not be pulled into his victimized targets' fight for survival. The screenplay, co-written by Aaron Sterns, is readily straightforward and without the deliberate rhythmic nature of the first film
. Made on a larger, more action-oriented scale, the sequelthink of it as "Aliens" to its predecessor's "Alien"opens up the canvas and wastes no time going for broke.
Not above dropping a conversational pun or off-color remarka personality trait that is organic and truthful to the character rather than a cheap comedic ployMick keeps coming, taking disquieting satisfaction in the act of stalking. In this role, John Jarratt (2012's "Django Unchained
") has brought loathsome, dread-inducing life to one of the most unforgettable villains in modern film. This is not a statement to be made hastily, nor is it hyperbolic; what Jarratt captures is all the more scary because he is so awful and yet so oddly charismatic. Were he not into decapitating bodies and skewering spines, he would be a perfectly affable mate. Conceiving of these two disparate sides is where the actor really shines, his full-bodied laugh and the glaring silences in between keeping viewers permanently on edge about what he will do next. As the central subject of Mick's wrath, Ryan Corr (2009's "Where the Wild Things Are
") is wholly sympathetic even as his Paul is only cursorily developed before becoming the hunted. When the two of them go head to head in a climactic battle of wits, with Paul attempting to ingratiate himself to Mick through limericks and a sing-along to "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" before getting locked into a bloody trivia game about Aussie history, the tension grows thick enough to cut.
"Wolf Creek 2" is an unrelenting, unforgiving terror show, purposefully barbarous and exceptionally directed until the final moments. As Mick plows down a mob of kangaroo in the big rig he has just stolen from an unfortunate truck driver, he keeps his focus narrowed on making Paul sorry he ever stepped foot on soil not belonging to him. After Paul delves deeper into Mick's underground dungeon of unspeakable sights, the murderous captor makes a final decision that seems out of characters and disappointingly rings false. Why McLean opted for this curtain-closing scene when cutting to the end credits right before it would have packed a much grimmer, more indelible punch is hard to say. It is a creative decision that turns a great genre addition into simply a very good one. This is still, ultimately, a proud place to be. Most likely because the same person is at the helm, "Wolf Creek 2" is an apt companion piece to "Wolf Creek
," staying true to what has come before while heading in new, fear-heightening directions.