I hated Wolf Creek.

Released in 2005 (and drawing on the real-life crimes of Outback serial killer Ivan Milat as well as the Peter Falconio case), I thought the movie was a grubby wallow in the reptile brain of Australian masculinity and badly wanted a shower after watching fair dinkum cobber Mick Taylor (an affably demonic John Jarratt) putting some uppity Sheilas in their place by sexually assaulting, torturing and murdering them, infamously joking that one is just a “head on a stick” after severing her spinal cord. Nasty, pitiless and vicious even by the standards of the torture porn genre, it felt simply like a 90-odd minute exercise in the vilest misogyny, a carnival freak show excuse to brutalise and degrade women for a braying audience.

2014’s sequel was, if anything, even more tediously offensive, playing the brutality for laughs, Jarratt’s brutal Crocodile Dundee-esque serial killer metamorphosing into a bad joke-cracking, racist avatar of the Aussie id, Les Patterson with a hunting knife and a hard-on for tourists. I got up and left the cinema halfway through the film, went to Pizza Express and replaced the bad taste in my mouth with a Pollo Ad Astra on a traditional base and a very drinkable Shiraz. I’ve since seen the end of the film on telly. Walking out of the theatre that night and scoffing a pizza was not the wrong decision.

So, the news that Australian subscription channel Stan had commissioned a six-part series that would follow the continuing exploits of Outback psycho Mick Taylor didn’t exactly blow my skirts up with excitement and I approached the viewing with a certain trepidation. If I couldn’t make it through the bloated 106-minute sequel, could I manage the 5 hours of the TV show?

Thankfully, yes. As a TV series Wolf Creek is good. No, really good. Much better than it has a right to be, a boldly cinematic, dark, tense, morally ambiguous cat-and-mouse game that feels like the sociopathic red-headed bastard child of The Hitcher and Wake In Fright that’s sat in the sun too long torturing animals. Wolf Creek is damned good!

Driving through the desert in their RV, the Thorogoods are the classic American family, the taciturn cop father (Longmire’s Robert Taylor, the nurturing mother, the enthusiastic pubescent son and sullen teenager Eve (Lucy Fry). But like any family, they have secrets. A talented athlete who seemed bound for the Olympics until her trajectory was derailed by injury, Eve is battling an addiction to painkillers and the holiday is as much a chance for her to go cold turkey, dad Roland watching her like a hawk every time she goes near the first aid kit.

Camping for the night at a billabong in the back of beyond, the Thorogoods encounter grizzled, affable bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) when he saves their son from a crocodile. Joining them for dinner and a few thank you beers, he ingratiates himself, puts them at ease, before brutally slaughtering the family, intent on raping Eve whom he shoots and leaves for dead.

And that’s the first 15 minutes of episode 1! The credits haven’t even rolled yet and Mick’s already butchered Longmire and killed an innocent little kid!

Recovering in hospital, Eve is questioned by sympathetic cop Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare) who’s obsessed with the theory that decades of tourist disappearances are the work of a serial killer. Stealing Hill’s case notes, Eve buys a van and heads out into the Outback, intent on revenge. But Mick isn’t finished with Eve just yet and the desert will swallow a lot of bodies before they meet again…

Flipping McLean’s films on their head by turning the hunter into the hunted and giving us a believable and sympathetic female protagonist who evolves from haunted victim into kick-ass Final Girl, the Wolf Creek TV series manages something the films never did: it makes us care about the characters, even Mick, as they engage in a delicate dance of death, Eve’s hunt for Mick in order to avenge her family setting off a chain reaction of violence that leads to her being hunted by a gang of Mummy’s Boys bikers she casually rips off, Hill trying to find her and save her, encountering along the way wise old natives, sympathetic escaped convicts and belligerent truck stop waitresses while Mick hunts them all.

Beautifully shot by one of Australia’s finest cinematographers Geoffrey Hall, the Australian landscape has rarely looked this beautiful, a baking, isolated expanse through which the protagonists pursue each other, Peter Gawler and Felicity Packard’s spare script wisely making Eve the show’s focus and keeping Mick in the background, a constant ever-present threat, keeping them apart, their paths constantly criss-crossing but never encountering each other until the sixth episode’s violent climax.

While practically every male character does seem to be an inbred murderous rapist intent on fucking or killing Eve, Jarratt’s Mick is a wonderfully repellent, amoral creation, a creature of pure appetite and desire who’s practically a force of nature, and there’s strong support from Clare’s driven cop, Deborah Mailman’s eccentric and meddling waitress, Rachel House’s butch Maori trucker and the wonderful Jack Charles whose wise old native Uncle Paddy teaches Eve a few much-needed survival skills. But the show belongs to Fry whose steely vulnerability makes Eve a compelling protagonist you want to root for.

A bloody and bonkers blend of eye-popping action, thriller and horror, Wolf Creek is an intense and thrilling ride into Australia’s dark heart. Screw Westworld and Mr Robot and buy this box-set.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.