If one forgets what a real knife looks like, “Wolf Creek,” now a six-episode miniseries airing on Pop TV, will be a vicious reminder. There wouldn’t have seemed like much more territory to unpack for series writer-director-producer Greg McLean, who made audiences vow to never backpack through the Outback with his grimly terrifying 2005 terror-show “Wolf Creek” and the equally brutal 2014 sequel “Wolf Creek 2.” All preconceptions aside, McLean, co-director Tony Tilse and the writers have concocted a cutthroat gripper recommended to the strong of stomach.
The Thorogood family from Nebraska vacations in the Australian Outback’s Northern Territory, also as rehab for troubled 19-year-old Eve (Lucy Fry). When the youngest, Eve’s brother (Cameron Caulfield), is nearly eaten by a crocodile in a lake adjacent to the family’s campsite, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) comes to the rescue. The parents (Robert Taylor, Maya Stange) invite Mick for dinner around their fire, and after Eve goes back to the trailer to sleep, Mick slays Eve’s family. She escapes, until Mick injures her with one shot and leaves her for dead. By morning, Eve comes to in a local hospital.
Enter police officer Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare), who investigates the disappearance of Eve’s family and notices a trend in a string of other missing persons cases in the Northern Territory. Instead of Eve getting on a plane back to the United States, she steals several case files from Hill’s office in search of the man in the poaching truck responsible for slaughtering her family. Meanwhile, Mick soon discovers from a cafe owner that a blonde American girl has been out looking for him, and so he’s off to track down the “sheila.”
Gasp-inducing and unforgiving from the first episode, “Wolf Creek” rarely loses a tight focus on Eve making it her mission to find Mick. There are times when the show gets bogged down in repetitive padding, as Eve encounters couple of different convicts and a family of bikers. There’s even a red herring where Eve finds a couple of broken parents who have lost their daughter to whom she assumes is Mick strays off the path a bit, but this direction keeps the viewer off-balance and makes for a few thrills. By the fifth episode, there is also one hard pillow to swallow as if a large gap of time has taken place when we find Eve, now with an empowering dragon tattoo on her torso, already working as an escort waitress in a black wig. By and large, though, the final face-off between Eve and Mick in Wolf Creek that doesn’t culminate until the extended sixth and final episode is well worth the wait.
Aussie actress Lucy Fry, noticeably not always sticking to her American accent, gamely goes through the wringer and turns in a committed, emotionally honest performance. As we come to learn, Eve was once a promising athlete who became addicted to a prescription drug (which could come back to haunt her in later episodes), and Fry ably carves out a believable and complex arc for the character. One doesn’t need anymore reason to want to follow Eve, who had to find her entire family murdered by one man. As the series progresses, one wishes Eve would just own it sometimes; whenever a shady man tries attacking her and she pulls a gun on him, Eve does pull the trigger but then rushes to their aid. That quibble aside, there is an unexpected investment in the relationship between Eve and Sullivan Hill, played by an appealingly rugged Dustin Clare.
Reprising his indelibly threatening role for the third time, John Jarratt still doesn’t miss a beat as jolly tourist-killing Mick Taylor. Flashbacks to Mick’s abusive childhood might have been a colossal miscalculation in lesser hands, but the viewer learns just enough about what might make this evil man tick. When any backstory is learned about a human monster, it usually erases the entire allure and renders said monster much less frightening; luckily here, there is enough to disturb but not over-explain or force us to emphasize with Mick too much.
Despite uneven patches in pacing over an episodic story structure, the series often matches the uncompromising terror of Greg McLean’s two films. If one doesn’t mind spending more time with the outwardly charismatic but extremely dangerous Mick Taylor, there is much to recommend here. The harsh, vast but not underpopulated terrain of the Outback setting, once again, goes a long way into making one feel as displaced as the tourists do. Also, as a nice touch, each episode builds a pall of portent by opening with a haunting credit sequence, a montage of predator and prey imagery cued to Lisa Salvo’s “Who Killed Cock Robin.” As a companion piece to the “Wolf Creek” name, this TV event is satisfying and maybe even a little more meditative than its film predecessors.