“Wolf Creek” (2005) and “Wolf Creek 2” (2013) are among the most chilling and effective horror films out there. (They can be difficult for even seasoned fans of the genre to watch.) And last year’s follow-up television series faithfully channeled so much of their mood, tone and atmosphere that it should have been just as effective. What a shame that its first season falls short due to tremendous problems with pacing and story structure. I’d rate it a 6 out of 10.
The six-episode arc has the feel of the films. It was written, directed and produced by Greg McLean, as they were. Once again, the forbidding Australian outback is itself a central character, gorgeously captured and lovingly presented by the show’s cinematography. I think it’s been a long time since I saw a horror film or series so successfully project a mood. Also returning, of course, is John Jarrett in his perfect and perfectly frightening portrayal of the serial killer Mick Taylor.
Lucy Fry’s young American antihero, Eve, is the latest to face off against him, but there’s a twist — after surviving the slaughter of her family, she resolves to find and kill him. Fry is just great in the role; Dustin Clare is well cast as the nice-guy cop who alternately pursues and tries to rescue her from danger. The rest of the cast is also roundly terrific. The soundtrack and scoring are beautifully atmospheric.
Unfortunately, though, all of these elements appear within a plot that moves at a snail’s pace. We actually don’t see much of Mick for many episodes — the story focuses on Eve’s haphazard, calamitous odyssey through rural Australia, encountering criminals, good Samaritans and just plain lunatics. McLean scripts a protagonist that is compelling and cool, and Fry is a good actress. But many of the events of her journey are only tangentially related to the story’s central conflict, which is her duel with Mick. I get the sense that fans might tune in to see a horror film, but might be disappointed by a moody, loosely plotted travelogue through McLean’s brutal fictional interpretation of the Australian outback.
I wondered how the screenwriter here could make such a major miscalculation. Then I remembered that the “Wolf Creek” films, despite their brilliance, were also quite slow. They contained what seem like lots of supporting or ancillary material connected with Mick’s victims, which were ultimately interspersed with the intense violence that made them terrifying movies (not to mention Jarratt’s flawless portrayal of a violent sociopath).
But those movies both had an hour-and-forty-minutes running time. These six episodes add up to four full hours. The slow pace of films was a forgivable flaw — it even came across as deliberate pacing. It’s frustrating, though, for any onscreen story lasting more time than that. I honestly think I would have enjoyed Season 1 much more if it had been edited down to half its length — into maybe three episodes or one feature film.
Oh, well. This series is still remarkably well made, and I do think it will please many fans of the films. If you enjoyed those, I would recommend giving this series a shot.