Wolf Creek (BrianOrndorf)

On a road trip to visit the Wolf Creek meteor site in Western Australia, Ben (Nathan Phillips), Kristy (Kestie Morassi), and Liz (Cassandra Magrath) embark on a long odyssey into the unknown wilds of the land. Arriving at the site, their car breaks down, and leaves them stranded quite literally in the middle of nowhere. An Aussie stranger named John (Mick Taylor) comes across the threesome by chance, and offers his help by towing them to his home, located even further into isolation. Once there, the trio learns the true nature of John’s hospitality, commencing a long night of terror and bloodshed.

“Wolf Creek” uses the dramatic shield of “based on true events” to cover the fact that the film is just a routine slasher knockoff, and a fairly dreadful one at that. Any faithfulness to real life is abandoned right away, with writer/director Craig McLean looking to fashion his own mild version of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but this time taking it to the Australian outback.

“Wolf Creek” is one of those tired micro-budgeted horror films that enjoys stealing from its genre forefathers under the guise of “homage” so the thievery isn’t as obvious. McLean is making his feature-length debut with “Creek,” and he’s far too reliant on atmosphere to get by. Yes, there are incredible Australian vistas to soak up, but McLean gives the audience enough shots of outback sunsets and peaceful desolation to let the film (at times) pass for a production from the local tourist board. After sitting through the rest of this uninspired junk, I wish the film had stayed with the kangaroos and arid landscapes.

There are many things both slapdash and screwy with “Creek,” but McLean’s biggest sin is the 60-minute set-up before the horror kicks in. Oh yes, it takes a full hour before anything of note occurs. I’m sure McLean would explain this time away as an occasion to get to know the characters, but these are young, inexperienced actors, and to see them fluster though limp improv in an effort to fill up the running time is more brutal than any act John ends up committing. The opening two sections of “Creek” are so achingly dull and borderline pointless that when it comes time for McLean to rev up his engine and start the mayhem, interest in any of this has evaporated.

The final 30 minutes of “Creek” are just as familiar and unimaginative, taking heavy cues from “Chainsaw” in mounting seclusion terror. Because the climax contains heavy amounts of disturbing imagery, McLean elects to use obvious handheld camera movement to ratchet up the perceived chaos of the situation. All it does is make the viewer dizzy. There is plenty of gore and terror for the finale (brutal stuff for the casual viewer), but it can’t break the coma the film has already slipped into.

I guess the true insult of “Wolf Creek” is the ending: confirming that the whole movie doesn’t make a lick of sense, and was only an exercise for a novice filmmaker to try and fill 90 minutes with almost nothing of substance. He succeeded.

Rating: D-