“What the bloody hell are you buggers doin’ out here?” That peeved query is one of many threatening lines said by Aussie isolationist Mick Taylor, the cheerfully rational monster patrolling the outback in Greg Mclean’s “Wolf Creek 2,” the odd, occasionally effective sequel to 2005’s unhinged horror surprise. In the original, actor John Jarratt played Taylor as a kind of cannibalistic “Crocodile Dundee“(surely we can all agree that cannibalism would’ve drastically improved “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles”). Jarratt’s scenery — (and people) — chomping performance, coupled with the pleasingly dusty setting, made “Wolf Creek” a nicely atmospheric — if grotesquely brutal — horror treat.
“Wolf Creek 2” is certainly a recognizable sibling to McLean’s debut feature. But where “Wolf Creek” could be called straightforward slasher-horror, its sequel is… something else, begging the question, what is “Wolf Creek 2,” exactly? It is a horror film, to be sure, a dash of “Hostel” with a pinch of just about every vacationers-in-peril thriller since “Deliverance.” In some ways it is less of a slasher flick, more of a serial killer thriller, with a villain “inspired by true events.” But above all else, it is a heavy-handed immigration allegory. There were elements of the latter in the first film, but here, these points are unavoidable, and wielded with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. To some degree, this clumsy use of political allegory makes the film more interesting than it might have been, but they do not make for anything resembling a horror classic.
The proceedings begin in lackadaisical fashion, as two drowsy cops spot a vehicle racing down a highway somewhere deep in the outback. It is their misfortune that the driver is the initially charming “pig hunter” Mick Taylor — no relation to the erstwhile ex-Rolling Stone, as far as I can tell. In the film’s most comical sequence, Taylor is let off with a warning by the police officers, which, of course has dire consequences for, well, you can guess who. Taylor is quickly established as having lost none of his winking bloodlust. In fact, with the initial film’s exposition deemed unnecessary, he is allowed to get down to business before the opening credits roll.
By the time Taylor drops his first tongue-in-cheek reference to our perception of Australia — “That’ll do, pig!” — it is clear that “Wolf Creek 2” is almost a spoof of our perceptions of Australia on film. Minus an early detour, the audience never exits the seemingly endless countryside, a world of smiling locals, sun-tanned backpackers, the occasional dingo. The soundtrack even includes a Rolf Harris singalong, for goodness sakes. (Elsewhere, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is used to humorous effect, and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” an admittedly overused selection that runs with the opening credits, captures the essence of Taylor perfectly.)
Just as in “Wolf Creek,” the film features a parade of soon-to-be screaming young people, starting with German backpackers (Phillipe Klaus and Shannon Ashlyn) who are surprisingly not a source of mockery, but presented as loving and mostly intelligent (emphasis on “mostly”). Without detailing the fate of the Germans — hearing Jarratt pronounce “fräulein” is priceless — it is no spoiler to say that they do not hang around for the entire film. Soon we meet British Paul (Ryan Corr), an amiable surfer who is ostensibly our protagonist. This good-natured chap is able to go toe-to-toe with Taylor in a series of chase sequences and verbal duels. He in many ways represents all that Taylor despises. He spits out a series of increasingly ticked pronouncements — “You’re here for an adventure … You’re here for a bit of excitement … You’re for a THRILL”; “You expect to come to my fucking country, walk around like you own the place, come between a man and his meal, and walk away, just like that?” — culminating in a queasy quasi-“quiz show.”
During this overlong sequence, Taylor asks Paul, luckily a history major, questions about Australian history, specifically the country’s past as a British penal colony. It is this scene, especially, that sees “Wolf Creek 2” drift away from horror into the lustful diatribe of an anti-immigrant maniac. It’s a long sequence that is disarming for its shifts in tone between humor and violent torture. Allegory takes over, big-time: “You’re nothing but foreign vermin. A stinkin’ introduced species. And it’s up to my kind to wipe your kind out. … Where’s yer famous English wit now?” This is all undeniably unique for a slasher film, but it is likely to frustrate viewers seeking nothing more than a bloody romp in the outback.
While the politics and film as a whole are not entirely successful, there is much to admire in “Wolf Creek 2,” not the least if which is director Greg McLean’s chutzpah. He is a visually adept filmmaker who makes fine use of the broad canvas that is the outback. Thanks to his skill, this is no cheapo, direct-to-DVD affair, but a well-made horror-thriller that is simply not scary or thrilling enough. Yet it is never, ever dull, and when our star spits out dialogue like “Somebody’s gotta keep Australia beautiful,” well, it’s difficult not to chuckle. Interestingly, Taylor is far and away the most colorful, memorable character onscreen. Of course, I do not think the filmmakers behind “Wolf Creek 2” are in agreement with Taylor’s narrow view of foreigners — and I must note that he doesn’t seem too keen on his fellow Aussies, either — but I do believe Mclean sees him as a rampaging mouthpiece for a certain viewpoint. Perhaps getting the audience to laugh at Taylor’s batshit belief system is the ultimate goal. If so, mission accomplished. [C+]