Welcome to Mick’s World

Gareth Negus watches the TV series of Wolf Creek.

wolf-creek-1
He’s behind you.

Wolf Creek started as a 2005 film from writer/director Greg McLean, about a serial killer in the Australian outback. An apparently jovial, if rough around the edges, outback hunter in the mode of Crocodile Dundee, Mick Taylor’s modus operandi was to befriend stranded tourists, take them back to his ramshackle home, and then rape and torture them at his leisure. It was a rough watch, though worth it if, like me, you happen to like that sort of thing – picturesque locations, excruciating tension, and a juicy role for veteran character actor John Jarratt.

But, having become a reasonably big hit, it faced the problem of evolving into a franchise.  This is a challenge for films whose main draw is a thoroughly vile serial murderer; Hannibal Lecter is far more effective as a background presence in Manhunter than the central figure he became in later films. When your villain is supernatural – Dracula or Freddy Krueger, say – this isn’t a problem, as they can be finally, definitively destroyed only to rise again next time to face a new set of characters. But if Mick, a flesh and blood character, is finally killed, then further sequels are out of the question.

The narrative strain was already showing in Wolf Creek 2 (2013), which sees Mick crossing paths with a resourceful tourist, who – spoiler alert! – ultimately fails to defeat him.  This meant I approached the series with some trepidation. The idea of getting to know and sympathise with a protagonist who is guaranteed to be doomed from the start is painful enough for a 100 minute film; why would I want to risk that over a six episode series?

Episode 1 introduces us to the Thorogoods, an American family on holiday in Australia. Their young son is attacked by a crocodile, but is saved by passing hunter, Mick Taylor. Mick settles down for dinner with the grateful family, but quickly reveals his true colours and murders them – except for 19 year old daughter Eve (Lucy Fry, who also appeared in McLean’s recent film The Darkness), who survives by a stroke of good luck.

Learning from sympathetic local cop Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare) that a large number of people have gone missing in the area, and that there may be a serial killer on the loose, Eve decides to steal the police files and dedicate the remainder of the six episodes to tracking Mick down and exacting revenge.

For the bulk of the series, Eve is the protagonist rather than Mick, which is just as well – he’s not the most nuanced character, however much energy Jarratt puts into the role. As a promising college athlete, Eve comes equipped with a skillset useful for a horror heroine, but is forced to undertake a steep learning curve in order to survive the more prosaic threats in the outback (if this series is to be believed, Australia is full of small-time criminals and would-be rapists). While Fry sells her journey from fragile but determined to the tough avenger of the final episode, there are some odd storytelling choices along the way.

Hill makes a big deal to Eve of how large Australia is, and how hard it will be to find one man; so it strains credibility that such a small group of characters can keep running into each other.  In particular, it makes one wonder how Mick has evaded capture for so long. He’s hardly discriminating when it comes to choosing his victims (he murders almost everyone who crosses his path, though the sexual violence has been toned down in comparison to the films).  This is partly because it’s unclear how much time the series covers; time has certainly passed between episodes four and five, for example, but whether it’s weeks, months, or even longer is anybody’s guess.

One of the strong points of the first film was its sense of place. The setting made it feel different to the many backwoods horror films to have come from America, not only visually but in the sense of the landscape as a living thing – something that plays into films from down under as varied as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Long Weekend. Vehicles would fail in the vicinity of Wolf Creek, only for Mick to emerge from the gloom as though summoned.  The series plays with this to some extent (“You’ve seen a demon,” an old aboriginal man tells Eve, and he may or may not mean it metaphorically), but not in any consistent manner; it also gives Mick some unnecessary backstory, reinforcing his status as a killable human while doing nothing to develop him as a character.

Ultimately, of course, Eve and Mick do confront each other. Does the finale evade the trap I feared? Answering that would inevitably result in the most spoilery of spoilers, but I will say that – while I certainly didn’t hate the end – the episode does try to have its cake and eat it.  While I enjoyed the series overall, I would be happy if Mick was now retired (though I would happily watch a series about Lucy Fry dispensing bloody justice across the continent). But the imdb already has a listing for Wolf Creek 3, so I probably shouldn’t count on it.

Wolf Creek: The Complete First Series is out now on DVD, blu-ray and VOD.

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