That shameful refusal by Australia’s top Film Reviewers to not review Wolf Creek 2 on their popular At The Movies show just won’t go away… check out this excellent article by Jessica Balanzategui in The Age.
In the late 1980’s, Mick ”Crocodile” Dundee playfully encouraged audiences to question what really constitutes a knife when you’re in the untamed wilds of outback Australia. More recently, Mick Taylor of Wolf Creek similarly compelled potential visitors to the outback to think deeply and painfully about when a knife is really a knife.
He implores some German tourists to consider ”what the bloody hell are you buggers doing here?” And rightly so, considering what lies ahead for them.
The Wolf Creek films revel in the nightmarish underside to the myths of rural idyll, mateship and charming ockerism that have become so central to our ideas of national identity.
Horror films have long crept alongside the comedies, dramas and art films that make up the bulk of our cinematic output: before Babe, the adorable little pig who dared to dream big, there was Razorback, the giant wild boar that gleefully ripped its victims to pieces. In fact, some classic Australian films that we proudly hold as pinnacles of the craft, Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971), Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), are basically horror films masquerading as lofty art pieces.
Wolf Creek 2 follows in the footsteps of these films, and in fact references Wake in Fright directly a number of times. Yet Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, the deserved royalty of Australian film criticism, refused to review Wolf Creek 2 on their influential television program, At the Movies, despite the fact the film is currently the top earner at the Australian box office.
For decades Pomeranz and Stratton have been vital cogs in the rather badly oiled machine that is the Australian film industry. Australian releases face a David and Goliath battle from the outset, being forced to compete with the flood of heavily marketed blockbuster Hollywood films.
Throughout their careers Pomeranz and Stratton have made it their mission to champion Australian films – even the ones they don’t particularly like – by raising awareness of Australian releases through their insightful reviews and interviews. Yet it seems that films classified as ”horror” are not extended this support.
This genre bias did not start with Pomeranz and Stratton: it has been an entrenched component of the Australian film industry since its revival in the 1970s. In the 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood, Phillip Adams, who helped to establish Australia’s government film funding system, admits that in setting up the guidelines for funding ”many of us were very snobby about genre films, there’s no question about it. We didn’t approve of them.”
Wolf Creek director Greg McLean and producer Matt Hearn are all too aware of this issue. Hearn mortgaged his house to finance Wolf Creek; their follow-up, Rogue, was financed by American studio executives the Weinsteins; and Wolf Creek 2 was delayed for years due to funding shortfalls.
Snobbery towards horror films does nothing to help strengthen the Australian film industry. Just because a film is packaged as ”horror” does not automatically mean it is devoid of artistic and intellectual value: it just makes it easier to sell. Even Stratton, in his caustic review of Wolf Creek 2 in The Australian, reluctantly admits that the film’s cinematography, courtesy of Toby Oliver, is ”pristine”.
Wolf Creek 2 is indeed violent and confronting, particularly because of the disconcerting mash-up of Mick Taylor’s true blue Aussie humour and his sadistic, murderous intent. However, so was Wake in Fright, which Pomeranz described as ”menacing and sinister” with a ”disgustingly seedy” antagonist, yet which Stratton went on to describe as ”a great milestone in Australian cinema history”.
So, too, was the recent Snowtown (Justin Kurzel, 2011), a thoroughly disturbing film about the infamous ”bodies in the barrel” murderer John Bunting. Yet Pomeranz lauded this film – classified as an ”art film” due to its minimalist style – for it ”does not pull back from exposing the audience to … grotesque brutality”. Stratton also complimented the film on its ”dark power”.
Yet Wolf Creek 2, which employs similar tactics wrapped up in a commercially viable horror film package, is by contrast ”ugly and manipulative”.
I deeply respect Stratton and Pomeranz and have idolised them for as long as I can remember. But their refusal to review Wolf Creek 2 – even just to declare their hatred for it – points to a long-standing problem within the Australian film industry.
The confected division between ”lofty” art pieces and ”low brow” horror is outmoded and unhelpful. Horror has some powerful and revealing things to say about our society, just as art films do.
Jessica Balanzategui is undertaking a film studies PhD at Melbourne University. Her research explores the cultural power of horror films. Read more and comment at The Age HERE