If (as I proposed at the end of my review) 2005's Wolf Creek is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of 21st Century Australian horror - aggressively nihilistic, full of pointless violence without catharsis - I guess it would have to be the case that Wolf Creek 2 would therefore be the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 of 21st Century Australian horror). There's the patently obvious fact that both sequels took a shockingly long time to come out: TCM2 wins on that front, having come out 12 years after the first movie, but Wolf Creek 2 followed a pretty darn substantial 8-year gap, during which time Greg McLean wrote and directed one other feature, the splendid 2007 crocodile film Rogue, reimagined himself as an executive producer for other people's genre films, and as far I can tell simply didn't do much of anything to keep his exciting young career exciting. So in this respect, I have only respect for the filmmaker: the pressure to create a sequel to Wolf Creek must have been enormous, given its basically instantaneous cult status and massive international return on investment, and his career probably could have done with an adrenaline shot.

The respect doesn't necessarily last as far as the point of actually watching Wolf Creek 2, and I here pick up that last paragraph where I dropped it, with the TCM2 comparisons. That film, if you haven't seen it in a while or ever, takes the raw-nerve savagery of its predecessor and adds absurdist comedy, transforming the material into the stuff of a carnivalesque grand guignol farce. Wolf Creek 2 doesn't go that far: it would be quite impossible to claim with a straight face that it's a "comedy" per se (though it has at least one scene unabashedly being played for comedy). But it does have a sense of the carnivalesque, particularly in its last act, the part that feels the most like TCM2 to me; instead of the first film's icy nihilism, it goes for being garish and over-the-top disgusting, and while it's not really funny nor trying to be, it does have a sense of cartoonish bigness, mostly centering in its villain, the psychopathic bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt). And this is the point at which I should clarify that I do not like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at all, and when I compare it to another film, I mean that as an insult, and so far everything I've told you about Wolf Creek 2, I don't much like at all.

That being said, I do think the film ends up working, somewhat, more or less. Mostly, it works in the middle, where it strips away everything the barest ingredients: one psycho, one sweat-soaked victim running from that killer, and the vast unsympathetic desert scrub of the Outback. The end is where it gets the most ludicrous, and maybe that would be okay, but like Tobe Hooper before him, Greg McLean appears to have no sense of humor at all, and so he simply lacks the skill set to do "ludicrous". The beginning is a sloppy patchwork quilt where the film oscillates between no fewer than three possible scenarios before it lands on the one it actually wants to follow, by which point we're already a good two-fifths of the way through the 106-minute film.

In the beginning, there are two cops, Sergeant Bulmer (Shane Connor), a grizzled old bastard, and Constable O'Connor (Ben Gerrard), a scrawny young bastard. They are bored out of their minds, and get hopeful when they see a dilapidated old truck coming down the highway; unfortunately, it is driving under the legal speed limit. But they decide to chase it down anyway. And who should be driving the truck if not Mick, all smiles and bonhomie; expanding on the first film's conceit that he's basically the evil embodiment of every stereotype about Australians, his first two lines of dialogue are, in order, "G'day" and "No worries!" But the film knows that we know that he's bad news, and this is one of the very best thing about the first scene of Wolf Creek 2: the way that Mick is framed like a threat, in slightly-too-snug singles and with a deliberate delay before we see his face, while the movie does nothing to establish that he is a threat. It's the best thing that a sequel can do, really, relying on the audience's familiarity with the material to skip ahead and even, in this case, play with an ironic contrast between the surface of the scene and the mood it somehow manages to generate.

The cops do the whole "abuse our power" thing, Mick seems chagrined and confused and put out, and they leave him behind, laughing like a pair of assholes; this makes it more satisfying than horrifying when the top half of O'Connor's head is sheared clean away by some kind of exploding round. Since he was driving the car, it crashes, leaving Bulmer mangled and bleeding out; he is, in the extremely near future, going to become considerably more mangled and bloody.

This is, all things considered, a pretty satisfying opening, demonstrating a willingness to do something completely new, both narratively and stylistically; cinematographer Toby Oliver throws out Will Gibson's gross, grimy look for something much sharper, more saturated, and more obviously digital, and it's at least an interesting new approach that cues us to expect a different tone for this sequel. The cops are effectively unsympathetic victims, while Mick himself remains too terrifyingly depraved in his jolly, laughing bloodlust to come across as a charismatic anti-hero like so many slasher killers, so we're invited to admire the splashiness of the violence without it being grueling and upsetting. It's definitely nothing like Wolf Creek, but I liked it well enough, give or take the cops' relatively weak performances.

It also has fuck-all to do with the rest of the movie, which at this point immediately reboots into basically re-making the first movie only with less conviction; not the worst of all sins a sequel can commit, but the most boring (of course,the film already announced its intentions to copy the first movie by replicating its opening title cards about the number of persons who go missing in Australia every year, a gambit that is much less effective in this much more gonzo movie). The next stretch of the movie is basically a compact version of the first half of Wolf Creek: foreign tourists party, go on a road trip the next day, stumble through some small adventures, end up at Wolf Creek Crater National Park, Mick finds them, violence ensures. In this case, the tourists are Germans, Rutger (Philippe Klaus) and Katarina (Shannon Ashlyn), and Mick has begun making explicit that he's motivated to kill by his outlandish hatred of non-Australians fucking about with his beautiful wilderness. This is terribly disappointing: a character who kills and tortures out of pure inhuman delight in killing and torturing is scary and more memorable than a character that McLean and co-writer Aaron Sterns have made into some kind of half-assed commentary on violent nationalistic impulses, though it is already giving the film too much credit to call this a "commentary". The point is, Mick suddenly becomes more grounded and explicable, and these things are death for a character like this. Plus, Rutger and Katarina are completely dull characters, lacking all of the little snippets of unique personality that the first film plugged into its three victims, making them feel more distinct and thus making their fates harder to take. Of course, since Wolf Creek 2 is plainly, by this point, looking to gross us out (possibly with a disgusted chuckle) rather than genuinely unsettle and horrify us, it makes sense for the victims to be less interesting and distinct figures. But it's still disappointingly shallow and by-the-books horror writing.

Having raced through this second movie, McLean and Sterns come up with another one: English tourist Paul (Ryan Corr) finds Katarina along the side of the road, where she has managed to escape Mick (Rutger has been, by this point, very wetly beheaded). They tear off into the night, and from here, for a while, Wolf Creek 2 is at its very best: a thriller on the model of Duel more than any kind of horror movie, but immensely well-handled, with Paul as a sufficiently haggard and panicked little rabbit on the run that it's possible to overlook that he's not any more engaging of a character than the non-starters Rutger and Katarina. There's a few notes of nasty-minded humor (including a scene of Mick plowing a big rig through a herd of kangaroos that's funny rather than disgusting largely because of how unconvincing the visual effects are), a lot of tension, and an overwhelming sense of nonstop forward movement. It's pretty generic - indeed, the most generic part of the whole movie - but well-executed genre material.

Then, as he must, Mick catches Paul, and the film hits the point where it's most distinctive and, I suspect, most divisive. For me, it doesn't work: the mind games the two characters play (in a nutshell: Paul thinks he's figured out Mick's warped brain, but Mick is leading him the whole time) go beyond colorful villainy into the fully ridiculous. Jarratt is up for it, and his enthusiastic blustering and ability to switch from cheerful to shrieking with predatory rage in the middle of a word at least keeps the scene from completely disintegrating. But McLean simply isn't director enough to handle this material, and it completely loses the thread, tonally. It's silly, it's tense, it's (softcore) torture porn, and it can't fit all of these things into one package. Eventually, it breaks lose into that carnivalesque last act, and while I think it's pretty stupid how grandiose and elaborate it gets - Mick has a whole medieval torture dungeon buried in the ground, it runs out - it's at least just doing one thing, and doing it with a great deal of commitment.

Basically, Wolf Creek 2 is slopping all over the place, trying way too many things and failing to do several of them. I do love that it swings for the fences; it is not a safe sequel, or a safe horror movie in general. And when it works, it's absolutely terrific; never reaching the thunderous power of the first movie, but pretty intense and involving in its way. Even its loopiest moments in the end have a certain power that goes beyond the garish shock of the imagery. This is not a disposable sequel. But neither is it a necessary sequel, and while I am happy to have seen it the one time and would recommend that all fans of Wolf Creek do likewise, I wouldn't trot this out as a slam-dunk example of McLean's strengths - his ambitions, sure, but decidedly not his strengths.

Body Count: 7, along with a number of already-dead but garishly-displayed corpses that I lost track of, as well as a number of CGI kangaroos not less than 3.