A sexy brand: tick. International appeal: tick. Star cast: tick. All six episodes to binge: tick. Money on the screen: tick.
If there’s a box Wolf Creek hasn’t got checked, it’s hard to find here.
When Wolf Creek drops today on Stan it will be a turning point in Australian SVOD. This is a big budget locally-produced drama series for the streaming market. And it opens with a bang.
An American family is holidaying in the bronzed outback of Australia. Roland Thorogood (Robert Taylor) is doing his best to rehabilitate eldest daughter Eve (Lucy Fry) with a dose of nature, after her addiction to painkillers. But when they stop off to cool at a local billabong, the youngest son only narrowly avoids becoming crocodile bait, thanks to the sharpshooting of a local: pig shooter Mick Taylor (John Jarratt).
Thankful for his life-saving skills, Roland invites Mick for some campfire tucker. As anyone who has seen the two feature films knows, that’s a bad idea. An uneasy conversation ensues between the polite Americans and the malevolent Taylor, whose rifle is for killing “pigs, donkeys, camels, tourists.”
It doesn’t take him long to do just that, annihilating family members in a terrifying, blackly-comedic attack. You’ll be watching this stuff through your fingers.
But Eve manages to escape, found unconscious by locals and hospitalised in Darwin.
Trying to get to the bottom of three murders is Detective Sgt. Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare), who isn’t entirely convinced of Eve’s tale about a killer with a blue truck, as opposed to a family murder-suicide. “People do crazy things out there in the never-never,” he suggests.
But Eve’s pain and frustration soon turns to anger and she proves resourceful in her quest not just for justice, but revenge.
In expanding the film premise to a mini-series, Wolf Creek necessarily shifts its focus to a female protagonist. Lucy Fry is outstanding as the action hero of this dark saga, upholding much more screen time than the infamous villain played by Jarratt. In the opening episode she is required to sustain scenes alone, with spartan dialogue. Together with sweeping outback exteriors, this gives Wolf Creek a cinematic language.
Mick Taylor’s screen time in the opening episode is largely confined to two grisly sequences. Once again growling his lines and sniggering like a psychopath, Jarratt’s presence looms large. Those who are troubled by excessive violence, particularly against women, are likely to remain suitably offended -presuming they turn up at all.
What is less clear about this adaptation is how well it will sustain across six episodes with Eve at its centre. But with Greg McLean serving as producer, director, writer -together with writers Peter Gawler & Felicity Packard and director Tony Tilse- there’s plenty of room for optimism.
Finding a satisfying ending, whilst still keeping its options open for a second season, will also require some storytelling skill. As an SVOD thriller, Wolf Creek is also radically different from lighter Free to Air offerings, including those on Nine.
The message is clear. Stan has just thrown down the gauntlet to Netflix and Presto to get serious about local content.
Wolf Creek is available from today on Stan.