Here's another movie that carries a tagline of Based on true events, and this concerns me, and it's been concerning me for a long time in movies. I think it's that word "based", and then seeing how much of the movie is actually real, and the thing that makes the movie better in your mind is more the fact that you're considering what you are seeing is really what happened, when it is often not.
The interesting thing about Wolf Creek is that it really pushes that statement to the outer limits of reasonable interpretation, and relies heavily on the effect the audience's mind will have on them while watching the movie and associating everything with real life. What's even more interesting is that it really does work.
The movie really has a few sections, there's the introduction to the characters and their lives, then there's the suspenseful thriller, followed by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original) moments, and finally the "based on a true story" wrap up, and actually it combines these really well into an escalation of terror.
The opening section where we're introduced to the three travellers and have time to understand who they are, their relationships with each other, their friends and lifestyles and where they're going in the movie, seems somewhat elongated. Watching it I definitely got the feeling that it was taking too long, that the introductions were complete, however what was happening was we were building an affinity with the characters and making a bond. This worked much better than other movies I've seen of late like Open Water where the introductions to the characters are scant and give you the bear facts without any real connections, so that during the movie when the scares should be kicking into gear you're shaking your head at their annoyance and idiocy.
This doesn't happen so much here because you are actually with the characters, and the exposure to their normal life and conversations helps you to feel something toward them, helps you view them as real people and make a personal connection, if you've ever been travelling of course. That leads me to the dialogue and the style, both of which are pretty realistic. It switches from a documentary to a drama really well, and it's this early documentary feel that helps bring that believability to it, over the "true story" statement.
Now, although for the most part the dialogue is pretty real and natural, there are some moments where you're left hanging wondering why no one is saying anything, it's more like an improvisation that's run out of ideas rather than a natural break in conversation. There's also a few moments of clunky dialogue that trip over themselves and it slaps you in the face to remind you that you're out of the movie. For the most part though the script brings another aspect to the realism that compounds that feeling of it all being a "true story".
Slowly, as the travellers reach their destination, the mood of the movie changes a little bit at a time, and the tension and suspense begins to build. This is done really effectively in a series of scenes, and at the point where the scary part of the movie takes over I was surprised at how much I was on edge.
There are two really effective scenes that manage to pull your suspense levels back and forth. The first was the appearance of the man with the truck, again the feeling in these scenes is overly stretched out and this is done to superb effect. He arrives and you know this is bad character, but then he's nice if a bit odd, and repeatedly nice. He's nice after the point that you even think this is a deliberate distraction from the standard Hollywood script device of misdirection. He's actually a nice guy. This just totally messes with you and actually didn't ease the pressure of suspense at all with me, it just raised it, as you knew you were waiting for something bad to happen.
Another superb scene is just after this where the characters are sitting around a camp fire waiting for the car to get fixed. Ben, played well by Nathan Phillips, makes a slight joke against Mick, superbly played by John Jarret, the local who's helping them out. Mick doesn't seem to appreciate it and gives him this long stare, again overly long and it's an extremely uncomfortable and chilling moment.
It's Mick who provides the most natural and truly terrifying performance, and when he really takes to the screen it's from here on that we move into the horror\terror area of the movie. This is where it totally delivers, the suspense is kept going on an even level, but we're treated to some utterly scary moments. Being locked up in the middle of nowhere by a psychopath is probably as scary as it gets, but the real horror is yet to come and we are shown it in a truly uncompromising and frightening way.
Mick continues to be the totally unemotional character looking on the tourists as nothing more than vermin to be played with, and this playing seems to include torture, rape, mutilation and killing. The two female leads Liz and Kirsty, played by Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi, manage to portray their horror and confusion throughout. It's when they are being chased down that they really deliver performances that convince you they are out of their minds with panic.
There are some amazing scenes in this section of the movie that I'm really not going to talk about, other than to say that they are very well written, visualised and portrayed, and they provide for more terror and realistic horror than I have seen for a very long time. It's these moments where my hands were on my face and I was considering that my hungover stomach was definitely not happy.
Mixed in here though are some of those traditional teen horror decisions, a few that you can put down to confused terror, and one or two that stuck out for me. However the suspense and terror just sweeps that aside onto the next scene that you have to deal with. This movie has stayed with me for two days now, I watched it Friday morning and writing about it on Saturday evening I'm still feeling uncomfortable and uneasy from it.
Yet it's not all great, and here I return to the reliance of that big flag I raised at the beginning, "true story". You see at the end of the movie we're given the traditional "true story" summary of closing events to the present day, just to let you understand the true horror of the events and again to tell us just how real it has all been. Yet in this case, what we realise is how much has been created, and how little of the story is in fact a creative tale.
That doesn't affect how good the horror and terror story is, but it raises so many more questions and you find yourself wondering a lot more about how and why and the huge missing storyline of one of the characters, rather than concentrating on the feelings of horror and terror that you've experienced and carried away.
For me this distracted somewhat from what the tale was about, and missing a huge chunk of a major characters story shouted at me that there was either a very heavy cut, or a big mistake was made in the screenplay. I can't say too much more about it, other than to watch it and see if you agree.
It's a superb horror movie with lessons in abject terror and suspense, but it's a poor representation of what is reported to be a true story. There is an excellent performance here from the psychopath, and a big note for the male lead who is obviously going to get noticed from this film and move onto better things, not just Snakes on a Plane!