The Is It a Slasher? series allows us to examine films that we do not consider pure Slashers, but that are so close as to be worthy of discussion. We also hope these posts will engender debate as to whether the film in question does or does not constitute a Slasher and, yes, we welcome the possibility that our opinion may be changed through such a debate.
This time we examine Wolf Creek (2005).
The first act of Wolf Creek is a by-the-book example of quality, modern Slasher writing; a trio of attractive friends set off on a road trip through desolate countryside and barely-populated towns. A few run-ins with locals and an expertly-crafted and persistent sense that “something ain’t quite right” builds tension subtly, until the inevitable breakdown and stranding and . . .
It’s about five to ten minutes after this point that Wolf Creek lets us know that it is, in fact, not a Slasher film, but, rather, an example of survival horror.
The idea here may have been to explore what may or may not make Wolf Creek a Slasher film, but, more generally, this article allows us to examine what separates survival horror from Slasher horror.
As described by Richard Nowell in his book, Blood Money, Slashers can generally be divided into three distinct parts (these parts can then be subdivided into seven story points, as described in What Is a Slasher?): the set-up, the disruption, and the resolution.
As explained above, the set-up in Slasher horror and survival horror is often identical: people, often young, gather or travel through a non-urban setting, where they typically enjoy some leisurely activities.
In Slashers, the disruption consists of a killer stalking and murdering the youth. During this period, other than having noticed a few irregularities (an open door here, a missing friend there) few if any of the characters even know that something is wrong.
The characters in survival horror movies, however, are immediately aware that something is wrong the moment the film moves from set-up to disruption.
In Wolf Creek, for example, the disruption is not begun by a killer picking off his or her first victim, intent on murdering the characters one-by-one, but with Liz waking in a shed, wrists and ankles bound.
The second section in a typical survival horror film is devoted to the characters surviving their plight. They are well aware that they are in mortal danger and now must figure a way out of it. In their struggle to survive they are invariably made to suffer.
By contrast, the characters in Slasher films are typically given only moments to understand the danger before they are killed (in some cases they never even realize the threat). Only the Final Girl (and maybe a sidekick or two) are given the opportunity to fight back or escape, and this only in the third section of the film, the resolution.
In survival horror, the disruption and resolution run together almost seamlessly, with the suffering either coming to an end through death or escape. The focus of the entire exercise, however, is on the ordeal through which the characters are put. Survival horror puts little emphasis on kills and, rather, creates suspense and tension through suffering and the promise of further suffering.
Personally, I’m no fan of survival horror and bristle when people describe survival horror films as Slasher films. I see them as related, but distinct genres.
That said, I will admit that Wolf Creek is a superior example of survival horror. In the end, as with all survival horror, I can’t help but wonder what exactly was the point of watching the film at all, given that I was simply made to watch a few characters suffer for over an hour before—in most cases—being killed.
Still, Wolf Creek is undeniably well-made, the acting strong, the photography fantastic. I’d like to see more true Slashers made with this kind of care and obvious talent. I do recommend the movie to those who enjoy survival horror (and would like to note that, though the film does include what would be termed sexual violence—rough groping, threats of an explicitly sexual nature—it contains no scenes of rape).
Also, the writer/director, Greg McLean, followed Wolf Creek with an excellent creature-feature, Rogue. Highly recommended.