Studio: Pop TV
Director: Tony Tilse, Greg McLean
Writer: Peter Gawler, Felicity Packard
Producer: Peter Gawler, Elisa Argenzio
Stars: John Jarratt, Lucy Fry, Dustin Clare, Jessica Tovey, Eddie Baroo, Matt Levett, Deborah Mailman, Jake Ryan, Richard Cawthorne
After her family is murdered, a 19-year-old tourist pursues serial killer Mick Taylor throughout the Australian Outback.
One initial “uh oh” when a movie is turned into a TV series is fearing it might become a rehash of the film, except experienced in slow motion. Take “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.” Its first season used ten episodes to tell essentially the same story the movie told in 108 minutes.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with “Wolf Creek: The Series.” It’s as much of a straight sequel to Greg McLean’s 2005 survival-thriller (review here) as “Wolf Creek 2,” albeit a four and a half hour follow-up spread across six episodes.
“Episode 1: Billabong” doesn’t drag out the series’ setup. Demented Dundee serial killer Mick Taylor enters frame five minutes from the start, pulling out his first dirty deed in such fast and unexpected fashion, it genuinely made me react with an astonished, “did he just do that already?”
Mick murders the entire family of American tourist Eve and leaves the 19-year-old girl for dead. Eve survives, something Mick’s victims generally don’t do, and her Australian Outback holiday becomes a hellbent quest to do something police can’t: track down Mick Taylor and exact bloodthirsty revenge.
Mick’s decades-long trail of missing persons hasn’t left many clues, yet police sergeant Sullivan Hill still keeps a file on hand regarding the mysterious murderer. Sullivan might take a more cooperative stance toward including civilian Eve in his investigation, although circumstances won’t keep her out of trouble with the law. Whether jailed for unknowingly possessing drugs, damaging police property, or escaping custody, Eve’s inadvertent antagonism of authority leaves her little choice but to go it alone.
This makes “Wolf Creek: The Series” a little like “The Fugitive,” with Eve playing Richard Kimble to Sullivan’s Sam Gerard. Subsequent episodes see Eve traveling from town to town across Australia in search of her one-armed man, encountering colorful locals who mix her up in an hourly B story while Eve and Mick’s collision course advances along the A.
Something a viewer has to let go of in order to dig into the show is the impossible nature of how subplots and side characters routinely intersect. Sullivan initially dismisses Eve’s intent to hunt Mick as a goose chase, discouraging her with a warning that Australia is so vast, they have better odds of finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. Yet no matter if it is Western Australia, South Australia, or the Northern Territory, the same dozen people seem uncannily able to pass each other on roads and in bars/cafes, no matter how remote the location.
Geoffrey Hall’s cinematography makes the most of exterior scenery with lush establishing shots capturing the country’s expansive beauty and scope. Then the ongoing arc shrinks that impression to postage stamp size, suggesting the Outback is a backyard populated by a handful of people who can’t help but bump into one another on the regular.
John Jarratt’s portrayal of Mick Taylor ranks the actor and the character among the most memorable contemporary horror villain icons. Fans may be disheartened to hear that Mick’s reduced presence in the TV incarnation of “Wolf Creek” means Jarratt doesn’t have quite as much scenery to chew, even with a nearly 300-minute runtime. When he does, he definitely does. And “Episode 6: Wolf Creek” rewards patient fans with a flashback to Mick’s childhood offering some insight into his motivation. But Mick sometimes fights to remain relevant when plotlines diverge too far from his direction.
It’s a give and take compromise, however. Featuring Mick sparingly swings the focal point to Eve instead, and Lucy Fry makes for a more than competent Final Girl who is easy to cheer for. John Jarratt may be top billed, but “Wolf Creek” is a showcase for Lucy Fry, who genuinely shines in her role. Certain to play a sister to Kristina Klebe in a future project, Fry hits a fine note between resourceful and vulnerable to be capable of holding her own without a viewer feeling like she can always escape every danger unharmed.
Speaking of danger, another problematic presumption of the premise involves how scripts go about keeping Eve jumping from frying pan to frying pan when Mick’s fire is not onscreen. It’s a necessary evil to keep action hot, but “Wolf Creek: The Series” really wants to give the impression that a blonde American on her own in Australia is unable to go anywhere without someone trying to rape, rob, or stab a knife in her stomach.
“Episode 3: Salt Lake” even reuses the same beat within the same hour through two separate instances of a skeevy man assaulting Eve inside her van. I won’t go so far as to say that Mick’s menace is undercut by incorporating these additional dangers. On the contrary, in one scene where Mick confronts someone else pursuing Eve, there is an intensity in their interaction that comes from half-expecting Mick’s powder keg personality to explode because he always feels like the ultimate threat. But the persistence in how every environment and encounter seemingly conspires to kill Eve makes one wonder, can’t this poor teenager catch a break?
“Wolf Creek” stretches time with excisable fluff. Sullivan has a subplot involving his struggling marriage that probably doesn’t have more than three minutes devoted to its advancement. Eve’s first episode “oops” of briefly tracking the wrong man reads as nothing more than filler. And some of Mick’s scenes are merely odd montages of him reveling in personal madness.
However, other asides stand out thanks to superlative supporting performances from actors appearing in only one or two episodes. Deborah Mailman is enjoyably amusing as a put-upon café owner dedicated to a faded visage of the Virgin Mary on a bathroom floor. Rhondda Findleton provides the most emotional minutes of “Episode 4: Opalville” as a grieving mother hiding her husband’s dark secrets.
At the very least, I appreciate this return to the franchise’s gritty survival-thriller roots over the more tongue-in-cheek touch of “Wolf Creek 2” (review here). A bit more baking in the development oven and six separate episodes might read more like one cohesive whole. Overall, “Wolf Creek: The Series” may not be essential viewing, but it is ultimately entertaining, provided there exists a willingness to invest 4.5 hours in an expansion to the movies’ mythology that matches a willingness to overlook implausible plotting.
Review Score: 65