Wolf Creek S01E01 “Billabong” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Fox, Tuesdays, 10pm
Writer: Peter Gawler
Director: Tony Tilse
Essential plot points:
- Serial killer Mick Taylor slaughters a family of American tourists visiting the Outback but teenage daughter Eve narrowly survives after being shot and is found by birdwatchers.
- Police do not take her seriously at first, not least because she’s a recovering drug addict, but detective Sullivan Hill notices some similarities between her case and other disappearances across Australia.
- Alone in Darwin, she spots a blue van she remembers Taylor driving, and pursues the driver into a strip bar before passing out. It turns out she has the wrong man, but she’s determined to hunt him down.
- Stealing Hill’s police files on the other murders, she buys a van at a tourist fair and drives off into the Outback, vowing vengeance upon the man who murdered her brother and parents.
- Meanwhile Taylor comes across a woman doing yoga by the side of a deserted road, and murders her too, leaving behind only her severed hand…
The vogue for translating claret-splattered horror films into unlikely television series has proved surprisingly successful in the last year or so. Kevin Williamson’s meta-tastic Scream franchise became a brilliantly gruesome and original slasher series for MTV, while Bruce Campbell and co have turned the Evil Dead into a half-hour gore-com with surprising ease.
Even so, the idea of translating the grizzly, uncompromising Aussie slasher franchise Wolf Creek into a TV show seems taking the whole damn thing a step too far. Despite having original writer-director Greg McLean on board, it seemed a stretch, not least because the structure of the original film would seem to be a difficult fit to a six-part series.
So it comes as as refreshing surprise that, rather than a pursuit horror film as per the movie, the Wolf Creek TV show flips that on its head and has one of Mick Taylor’s survivors looking to turn the tables on him.
Writer Peter Gawler, responsible for Australia’s brilliant Underbelly gangster series, and director Tony Tilse – who took charge of much of Ash Vs Evil Dead – have somehow conspired to create a show of unrelenting fear and edge-of-the-seat tension despite – an initial flurry of violence aside– keeping Mick and his brutality largely sidelined.
Instead the focus is on American teenager Eve, who is left for dead by Mick after he slaughters her family at a billabong campsite. Already a recovering painkiller addict before Taylor shoots her in the back, she’s now looking for revenge. She finds a sympathetic ear from the cop investigating the case, Sullivan Hill, who has been looking at similar unsolved murders across the Northern Territories.
For much of the episode Eve exists in an altered state, either on painkillers or recovering from her wound, and some brilliant direction and production ensures it has a woozy, almost sleazily voyeuristic quality, with lots of clever focus pulls and floating camera shots. It’s helped too by an engaging performance from Lucy Fry as the traumatised, vengeance-seeking Eve. She plays her character with a note-perfect mix of terror and anger.
Pairing her off with Dustin Clare’s Hill provides a nice contrast, with the detective a calm, stoic presence. Completing the core trio is John Jarrett, reprising his role as Mick from the films. As with the first film, he’s given a fantastic fake-out introduction – rescuing Eve’s younger brother from a crocodile attack and earning the trust of the family over a barbecue.
Anyone familiar with the character knows what’s coming next, making the build-up to moment he starts his slaughter an exercise in increasingly leary unease.
On paper, a TV version of Wolf Creek shouldn’t work. In practise it’s a six straight from the first delivery. Here’s hoping it can sustain that form over the full innings.
- The cinematography on Wolf Creek is beautiful and at times genuinely breathtaking, making great use of the deserted vistas of the outback to produce an at times alien landscape. Cinematographer Geoffrey Hall, responsible for the look of films such as Chopper, makes every frame look a million dollars.
- Obviously translating the show to television means taking some liberties with the uncompromising horror of the original films, but the opening scenes, with their sudden and brutal burst of violence, carry such impact as a result that it lends the whole thing an air of menace that doesn’t necessarily need constant viscera.
- All credit to Lucy Fry, who plays Eve. You’d never know she was an Aussie with that accent.
- Right. There’s a particularly egregious moment of special effects failing at the start of the episode, with the green screen view through the camper van windscreen is 1960s ITC rear projection levels of awful. Especially since the exterior shots are so gorgeous.
- Likewise, the spurting blood as Roland has his throat slashed by Mick Taylor is an unfortunately executed bit of CGI splatter – understandable as it’s cheaper than a practical effect, but not anywhere near as effective.
- Would someone who’s been shot in the back, is a painkiller addict and then collapses in the street be discharged from hospital quite so quickly? Aussie healthcare has some questions to answer…
And The Random:
- After the surprise global success of the first film, creator Greg McLean made troubled monster horror flick Rogue before turning his attention to a Wolf Creek sequel. As part of the process, he and co-writer Aaron Sterns worked on other stories within the same universe to explore Mick Taylor’s character, including two prequel novels, before being inspired to develop the TV show for Aussie streaming service Stan.
- Lucy Fry worked with McLean when he directed the Kevin Bacon horror film The Darkness (it came out in May, but you might have missed it…)
- Wolf Creek, as featured in the first two films, is a real place, albeit spelled Wolfe Creek in real life. It’s actually named after a gold prospector, Robert Wolfe, rather than the animal.
Review by Iain Hepburn