The Films of Greg McLean
Wolf Creek (June 20/06)
Before it takes a disastrous turn sometime around the one-hour mark, Wolf Creek comes off as an effective and thoroughly tense horror flick that's stylish without being obtrusive. Writer/director Greg McLean, making his debut, infuses the movie with an undeniably creepy vibe, eschewing the slickness that generally seems to accompany most contemporary horror movies in favor of a distinctly old-school sort of feel. Evidently based on a true story, Wolf Creek follows a trio of hapless backpackers as they're unwittingly lured into the den of a maniacal serial killer - where the three are summarily tortured and taunted by said psychopath. McLean smartly avoids the temptation to turn these characters into generic horror-movie archetypes, although - unfortunately - the filmmaker falls back on increasingly hoary cliches as the film progresses (ie there's a scene in which one of the backpackers manages to knock her assailant unconscious, but inexplicably fails to finish him off). The inclusion of several other similarly ludicrous sequences ultimately transforms Wolf Creek into a run-of-the-mill slasher picture, which is undoubtedly a real shame given the strength of the film's opening hour.
Wolf Creek 2 (January 12/17)
The Wolf Creek series hits the wall with this hopelessly ineffective and mostly tedious entry, with the familiar narrative once again following John Jarratt's Mick Taylor as he terrorizes tourists in the Australian outback. Filmmaker Greg McLean, at least, delivers a blisteringly-paced opening stretch that seems to hold a lot of promise, with the movie's engrossing pre-credits sequence, in which Mick brutally dispatches a pair of dirty cops, containing precisely the sort of over-the-top thrills one might've expected (and hoped for) from this would-be franchise. It does become clear, however, that the movie's first act ultimately bears little in common with the otherwise lethargic and aggressively by-the-numbers narrative, as Wolf Creek 2 eventually (and perhaps inevitably) segues into a tedious cat-and-mouse midsection that feels more like a pointless rehash of the first film's storyline than anything else - with the less-than-captivating vibe compounded by a protagonist (Ryan Corr's Paul) that often behaves like a parody of a horror-movie victim. Scripters McLean and Aaron Sterns attempt to liven up the lifeless midsection by emphasizing episodic happenings (eg Paul takes respite at the home of a quirky Australian couple), and yet it becomes increasingly clear that the inclusion of such moments wreaks absolute havoc on the already-tenuous momentum. By the time the somewhat improved third act rolls around, in which Mick quizzes Paul on his country's history, Wolf Creek 2 has confirmed its place as an almost painfully redundant followup with few positive attributes.
The Darkness (January 13/17)
The Darkness follows the Taylor family - Kevin Bacon's Peter, Radha Mitchell's Bronny, Lucy Fry's Stephanie, and David Mazouz's Michael - as they return home from a Grand Canyon vacation and are eventually besieged by mysterious forces, with the rote, by-the-numbers narrative detailing the characters' increasingly desperate efforts at discerning just what's happening to them. The eventual transformation of The Darkness into a tedious genre exercise is particularly disappointing given its strong opening, as filmmaker Greg McLean, working from a script cowritten with Shayne Armstrong and Shane Krause, kicks things off with a striking (and ominous) pre-credits sequence that seemingly sets the stage for a solid horror flick. From there, however, The Darkness segues into a slow-moving midsection that does, for the most part, play like a carbon-copy of other, better, movies - with the periodic inclusion of effective elements (eg Peter and Bronny first chalk Michael's weird behavior up to his Autism) ultimately unable to compensate for a paint-by-numbers storyline. (It's clear, too, that the tiresome emphasis on the protagonists' domestic problems compounds the less-than-engrossing vibe, with, for example, Bronny considering a return to alcohol and Stephanie dealing with a pretty substantial case of bulimia.) The narrative builds to a loud and over-the-top finale that just doesn't work and is as anticlimactic as one might've feared, with The Darkness, in the end, unable to establish a place for itself within an exceedingly crowded marketplace packed with movies of a similar ilk.