Wolf Creek (2005)

Wolf Creek is unfortunately lumped into the torture porn sub-genre of horror films. It’s possible I’ve become too desensitized to the intensity of this type, but ultimately there are only one or two scenes that depict unnecessary and grotesque violence.

Torture porn remains poorly regarded and not without reason. So many hack filmmakers, like Eli Roth, just throw character after character into nightmarish situations and brutal torture sequences, but their filmmaking abilities are so poor that there isn’t any fear or dread from the audiences point of view. There’s no tension in them, because creating that tension requires a skill that they just don’t have. 

This movie, on the other hand, presents characters that are likable and steadily builds the tension as the heinousness of the situation unfolds. There’s also some misdirection in the film with regard to who the ‘final girl” will be. Granted final girls are a trademark of the slasher, which most torture porn movies are only tangentially related to, nevertheless, about half way through the movie we are so aligned with Liz that when she’s killed it’s a genuine surprise. I never had any hope for Kristy, though. And even though the movie opens with Ben, he’s quickly forgotten—out of sight out of mind.

Ben is the only one to actually live, a minor subversion of our expectations. I wonder how intentional it was that he live, and also that he’s the only Australian of the three of them. I’m not suggesting Mick wouldn’t have killed him had he gotten the chance, just thinking about the nationalities as they related to Mick’s stated disdain for tourists. It’s not uncommon for these torture porn type movies to focus on travelers, and so ascribe to the villains some strain of nationalism.

Mick, lookin’ goofy and bein’ friendly

One of the things I liked about this movie is that even though it isn’t a standard slasher pic, it’s got a memorable killer—Mick. Based loosely on that of Ivan Milat, who killed at least seven hitchhikers and tourists in the early 90s in Australia, Mick is a seemingly friendly, but ultimately deranged man who preys on tourists in the area . 

Mick’s methods are indeed typical of the torture porn genre. Had this film stuck to a typical slasher narrative, and avoided attributing the more sadistic aspect of Mick, he could’ve become another one of the movie murderers that people love. He’s got a kind of Freddy Kreuger persona, he makes jokes and is overly confident in a similar way. But his methods are far too cruel and disgusting for most audiences (myself included) to laugh at or cheer on.

One of the key aspects of these films is captivity, marking the primary difference between classic slashers and torture porn. In the slasher, the victims are willingly traveling to a location they’re unfamiliar with, but are at no point detained. Generally they’re killed quickly. With torture porn, the deaths are slower and more gruesome, necessitating the victims inability to leave. 

I’ve heard that the subgenre grew as a response to the increasing intensity of both news and videos being posted to the internet. During that time a surge of beheading videos were making the rounds on the internet, and the response from horror movie makers seems to have been upping the gore in their own work. This kind of escalation of the grotesque in the real world being reflected in the media we consume makes sense.

Personally, I’m not a fan of most torture porn, at least not the Eli Roth type stuff. But, this movie surprised me. Yes, Mick is horrible and yes, the stuff he does to Kristy while she’s being held captive is abhorrent, but I think that cutting about 3-5 minutes off that scene would’ve made this a much different movie and potentially it’d be free from the torture porn label.

Liz has shot Mick, but for some reason decides not to kill him

Why didn’t Liz simply kill Mick when she had the chance? She was in his garage or tool shed or whatever that place was, had access to all kinds of things that could’ve easily made it so that he never got up again.

“Well then the movie would’ve only been 65 minutes long!” Good, too many movies are way too long.

But also, that’s not true. Use your imagination, the movie could’ve maintained much of the suspense while the two girls collect themselves and search for Ben, finding along the way more bodies and the video cameras and whatever other “souvenirs” Mick had taken from prior victims. Not only that, but they’re still stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no idea how to get home. Maybe something happens when they try to free Ben that unleashes one or all of the dogs. There are a lot of possibilities still, even with Mick out of the picture so early on. 

Overall, this movie has a bit of a confused tone in that Mick carries himself in the way a lot of franchise serial murderers do, but there’s a one too many times when we see him being disgusting. I’m not sure if the intention was to give Mick a place among the ranks of Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kreuger, but if so, they should’ve left the rape-y stuff, probably. Then again Freddy Kreuger was a child molester—I guess that stuff doesn’t matter so much.

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