DEEPER WA­TER

Fans of the Wolf Creek films should be de­lighted to watch the evil Mick Tay­lor back in ac­tion — at a time of their choos­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Ed­die Cock­rell Wolf Creek

The fi­nal scenes of both Wolf Creek (2005) and Wolf Creek 2 (2013) are long shots of the back of wise­crack­ing, knife-wield­ing and Aussie pop­cul­ture-quot­ing out­back psy­chopath Mick Tay­lor as he walks off into the dis­tance after engi­neer­ing an­other blood­bath to which he can’t be con­nected. The ob­vi­ous sug­ges­tion is that he won’t ever get caught — and that he’ll be back.

Now he is, cour­tesy of cre­ator-writer-direc­tor Greg McLean, the pro­duc­ers be­hind the Un­der­belly fran­chise and the stream­ing ser­vice Stan. As of last Thurs­day, and fol­low­ing much fan­fare that has in­cluded pop-up bars in Mel­bourne and Syd­ney, a six-part orig­i­nal se­ries ti­tled — wait for it! — Wolf Creek, is avail­able in its en­tirety to Stan sub­scribers for im­me­di­ate binge-watch­ing. Tellingly, a long shot in one of Stan’s brief trail­ers for the se­ries is of Tay­lor walk­ing to­wards the cam­era.

It was in­evitable the char­ac­ter, played as al­ways with sadis­tic bon­homie by the sin­gu­lar John Jar­ratt, would ma­te­ri­alise again from his out­back lair. After all, as pre-credit ti­tle cards in both films ex­plain, 30,000 peo­ple go miss­ing in Aus­tralia each year, with 90 per cent found within the first month and the rest never seen again. Do the maths.

Whether or not the world ac­tu­ally craves more Mick Tay­lor is a ques­tion up for de­bate. The dis­cus­sion is closed by the qual­ity of the show: Wolf Creek the se­ries is a smart, sinewy ex­ten­sion of a blunt-force film fran­chise that deep­ens mo­ti­va­tions while turn­ing the ta­bles on it­self by having the hunter be­come the hunted. As a bonus, the event it­self is an in­evitable and in­struc­tive con­flu­ence of creative and tech­ni­cal trends in the way filmed drama, par­tic­u­larly genre fare, is con­ceived, funded, con­structed and con­sumed to­day.

McLean, who di­rects only the fi­nal episode, cer­tainly saw the need, and the means, to con­tinue the fran­chise.

“There was quite a long time be­tween the two … movies,” he ex­plains, “so dur­ing that pe­riod we [hor­ror writer Aaron Sterns, who cowrote the se­quel] started think­ing about other sto­ries in the Wolf Creek/ Mick Tay­lor uni­verse, such as where had Mick come from and what hap­pened to him be­yond the films. I was pon­der­ing these no­tions a long time be­fore the se­ries came about and had sev­eral story ideas I wanted to ex­plore. We also de­vel­oped pre­quel nov­els [ Ori­gin and Deso­la­tion Game, pub­lished just prior to the sec­ond film] that took place be­fore the first movie, so we were ba­si­cally lay­ing the ground­work to ex­plore his char­ac­ter in a big­ger way from an early stage.”

Seen in this light, an episodic se­ries — and, more par­tic­u­larly, the im­mer­sive genre thrills made pos­si­ble through the binge-watch­ing of stream­ing content — seemed the per­fect fit. McLean ex­plains: “I had been speak­ing with the peo­ple at [ Un­der­belly pro­duc­tion house] Screen­time for a while and when Stan launched we pitched them the con­cept. They were im­me­di­ately ex­cited so we all met, and be­cause there was so much en­thu­si­asm it came to­gether pretty quickly. It sounds pretty straight­for­ward and it ac­tu­ally was.” There’s lit­tle doubt stream­ing ser­vices have been revo­lu­tion­ary, and House of Cards started the whole thing. When sea­son one of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal drama was re­leased in Fe­bru­ary 2013, the idea of binge-watch­ing a 13-hour TV se­ries no one had yet seen was risky. Sure, it had been done be­fore, as far back as the 1980s, though that was a col­lec­tion of pre­vi­ously aired episodes of a sin­gle TV show — a marathon, it was called — pro­grammed by a sta­tion to be watched at a set time. Later, the ad­vent of the per­sonal video recorder and DVD box set gave con­sumers the flex­i­bil­ity of binge-watch­ing at their own con­ve­nience such shows as The So­pra­nos, The Wire, Six Feet Un­der and Break­ing Bad. The prob­lem with that ap­proach was the shows had al­ready been on ca­ble or broad­cast TV, so the value was in re-watch­ing a favourite as op­posed to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing new.

House of Cards lead ac­tor Kevin Spacey urged tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tives dur­ing a 2013 lec­ture to give au­di­ences “what they want, when they want it” — the op­tion to binge. The se­ries gave Net­flix, which en­joys a big lead over upand-com­ers Presto and Stan in the volatile Aus­tralian stream­ing space, an al­most im­me­di­ate hit. The com­pe­ti­tion no­ticed.

Stan and Presto have both de­liv­ered, al­beit slowly, the lat­ter with the Mi­randa Brown/ Bryan Brown minis­eries Up the Duff and one stand-alone Home and Away film, and the for­mer with No Ac­tiv­ity, which has al­ready been picked up for a sec­ond sea­son.

Wor­thy as these shows are, the new orig­i­nal se­ries Wolf Creek re­veals them to be but baby steps. McLean and com­pany have got the ba­sics spot on in this ex­pan­sion of that Wolf Creek/ Mick Tay­lor uni­verse, be­gin­ning with the tightly plot­ted and tersely writ­ten frame­work of the story.

In north­ern Aus­tralia, Amer­i­can teen Eve Thoro­good (Lucy Fry) is on va­ca­tion with her fam­ily, dad Roland (Robert Tay­lor), mum In­grid (Maya Stange) and kid brother Ross (Cameron Caulfield). Roland and In­grid are cops from Omaha, Ne­braska, and they’ve headed to the out­back in the hope of break­ing the surly Eve’s ad­dic­tion to pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion.

When they pull up at a bil­l­abong for the night and Ross is at­tacked by a salty, their saviour is Mick Tay­lor (Jar­ratt). As Eve lies slightly drugged in the car­a­van from raid­ing the firstaid kit, Mick abruptly slaugh­ters her fam­ily in a darkly comic and fright­en­ingly bru­tal se­quence su­pe­rior to any in the films. (TV vet­eran Tony Tilse di­rected the first five episodes.)

Eve es­capes, barely, but her tale is greeted with scep­ti­cism by the Dar­win po­lice. De­tec­tive Sergeant Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare) seems sym­pa­thetic, but only to a point: he has piles of miss­ing per­sons re­ports on his desk that could ex­plain why her fa­ther pos­si­bly went a bit mad and mur­dered his fam­ily.

But Eve, even in her slightly ad­dled state, shows enough re­source­ful­ness and pluck to gather some pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing the pres­ence of Mick’s sig­na­ture pow­derblue ute at the scenes of pre­vi­ous vic­tims. She de­cides to skip her flight back to the US, rents a rat­tle­trap minibus and sets out into the bush.

“I prom­ise you,” she mur­murs to her dead fam­ily, “I will find him and I’ll make him pay.”

The in­ten­sity of the vi­o­lence in the pre-credit slaugh­ter sug­gests the se­ries will not down­play the gore that earned the films their genre stripes. And the cast­ing of Fry, who brings an au­then­tic and volatile blend of ad­dic­tive vul­ner­a­bil­ity and in­stinc­tual de­ter­mi­na­tion to Eve, en­sures a pro­tag­o­nist whose in­ner strug­gle will be just as com­pelling as the search for her fear­some foe.

Yet the en­gine that has al­ways pulled this train is Tay­lor, and the cal­cu­lat­ing tal­ent be­hind him — Jar­ratt. He’s still the jovial, xeno­pho­bic psy­chopath obliv­i­ous to the hu­man suf­fer­ing he causes, and Mick’s killing spree, which so far is lim­ited to the paved roads out­side Dar­win, has ac­cel­er­ated in fre­quency and au­dac­ity since the films. He’s a man on a mis­sion.

This is in keep­ing with Jar­ratt’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the char­ac­ter. “Mick Tay­lor hon­estly doesn’t see any­thing wrong with what he does,” Jar­ratt ex­plains. “I’ve got a back­story for Mick where he was in the pub, lament­ing the fact there’s not a lot of money to be made by shoot­ing feral an­i­mals any more as the in­dus­try was fall­ing flat and the out­back was be­ing taken over by all these ‘hip­pie back­pack­ers’. His mates then sug­gested that they should start culling the back­pack­ers, as they’re no bet­ter than feral an­i­mals. Mick liked the idea …”

And Jar­ratt is adamant about pre­serv­ing the char­ac­ter’s cheer­ful na­ture. “[The film­mak­ers] wanted to shoot a few scenes de­pict­ing Mick in his lair where he was growl­ing, scream­ing and look­ing hor­ri­ble, ba­si­cally a few fleet­ing mo­ments for var­i­ous episodes. But I told them that Mick doesn’t scream or yell or growl. He’s a very happy, easy­go­ing guy and when he kills peo­ple he’s laugh­ing. He’s not Freddy Krueger, he’s more like Pepe Le Pew with a manic laugh who has the time of his life.”

The thought re­sulted in black-and-white scenes of Mick drunk­enly danc­ing around his com­pound. “He’s having a ball,” Jar­ratt says. “It’s just his vic­tims who are not having fun.”

In a re­cent in­ter­view, Jar­ratt rather offhand­edly stated that the se­ries “ups the bar for tele­vi­sion in this coun­try”. And he’s right.

Given the vis­ceral qual­ity of Wolf Creek the orig­i­nal se­ries and the statis­tics ref­er­enced above, there’s lit­tle doubt he’s still out there, and that Mick Tay­lor will be back. Noth­ing suc­ceeds like ex­cess. is avail­able on stream­ing ser­vice Stan.

John Jar­ratt as the men­ac­ing Mick Tay­lor; Lucy Fry as the venge­ful daugh­ter Eve, be­low

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