I'm not the biggest fan of torture porn as a genre, and didn't shed one tear when it vanished ignominiously a few years ago. In my mind, it offered nothing but knee-jerk shocks and glib nihilism: ideas that seemed vaguely pertinent for about a minute and a half before their circus geek antics ran out of gas. In its wake came a bit of a renaissance for the horror genre: ostensibly gentler films that understood the nature of fear far more profoundly.
Wolf Creek 2 arrives as a seeming outlier, occupying the lower rungs of the horror genre and sticking proudly to the same despairing formula as its predecessor. As a critic, that presents a dilemma. On a purely technical level, it's skillfully assembled and enthusiastically presented. But the content still leaves the same bad taste in the mouth as its various brethren did. Fans of torture porn may disagree, and the film clearly exists for them. The rest of us can probably take a pass.
The first Wolf Creek bothered me in part because it vested its villain (John Jarratt) with near supernatural knowledge about where his victims were going to be and what they were going to do. That cost the film a dearly needed sense of realism. Torture porn thrives solely on the notion that this shit can (and has) happened out there. Stacking the deck so much in the bad guy's favor reduces it to deus ex machina, no less exasperating that giving the hero similar abilities.
Here, at least, director Greg McLean seems to have picked up on that lesson. We also have no illusions about Jarratt's Outback bogan and what he represents, so when he breaks out with his butcher's tools for another round of human hunting, we can't say we're surprised. The formula doesn't waver: after a brief attack on a pair of local patrolmen, another passel of wayward young people wanders into his gunsights and the chase is on. The details are every inch as horrific as you'd expect -- McLean pulls no punches -- but I confess to a certain tension in the air as the slaughter begins, and I'd be lying if we said we didn't have a real rooting interest in the various victims trying to break free.
And Jarratt makes for an interesting villain at the very least. So many of these films are populated by mute monsters or easy stereotypes. There's something delightfully subversive about watching this one put everyone at ease with a "no worries" Paul Hogan routine, only to suddenly produce the biggest pigsticker you've ever seen and carve up the rest of the cast like a roast. It may not be pleasant, but it's certainly different and it helps Wolf Creek 2 earn a certain distinctiveness.
On the other hand, the same problems with torture porn remain intact, from the essential pointlessness of the exercise to the sense that the filmmakers are getting off on our discomfort. I don't mind movies pushing boundaries -- great art is made that way -- but if you're going to expose me to so much heinous shit, it needs to have more of a purpose than "bad things happen to good people." That ultimately turned me off of Wolf Creek 2 the same way it did to Wolf Creek 1. I can't accuse it of false advertising, because it doesn't claim to be anything it isn't, and viewers presumably know what they're getting into. But neither do I feel better off for having seen it and while I can admire the way it unfolds its story, I still don't feel like it was a story worth telling. Sooner or later, you have to serve up something more compelling than an abattoir. For Wolf Creek 2, that's the only purpose of the exercise.