Despite its mixed critical reception, 2005’s Wolf Creek transformed into something of a sleeper hit at the global box office, becoming a cult film with some revering it as the Australian answer to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Arriving nine long years after its forerunner, Wolf Creek 2 is not an unnecessary direct-to-video follow-up, but rather a robust, vicious blast of Aussie horror produced with a competent sleight-of-hand. The sequel was directed and co-written by Greg McLean, who masterminded the original picture before going on to create the 2007 crocodile thrillerRogueWolf Creek 2 is a slight step down in quality from its forerunner, but its a worthy successor which doesn’t diminish its integrity, and feels like an organic continuation of the 2005 chiller. It’s hard to imagine any long-time fans being disappointed.

When a pair of German backpackers (Phillipe Klaus and Shannon Ashlyn) begin trekking through the Wolf Creek area of the Australian outback, they attract the attention of deranged ocker Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), who delights in torturing and killing tourists who dare to venture into the area. Before long, Englishman Paul Hammersmith (Ryan Corr) becomes unwittingly entangled in Mick’s exploits, commencing a non-stop pursuit across the harsh outback landscape where Mick has the upper-hand.

The mystery of 2005’s Wolf Creek was one of its most effective assets, as we were left to decide if Mick actually exists in the context of the story. With a sequel, McLean ran the risk of cheapening Mick as a character, dissipating his mythological status by turning him into a run-of-the-mill slasher like Jason Voorhees. But McLean again bases the movie on a true story (the accuracy of this claim remains up in the air, though), and Mick’s existence is still open for interpretation. Wolf Creek 2 also begins with title cards that are identical to those which preface the original film, pointing out how many backpackers go missing every year, and how many are never seen again. McLean and co-writer Aaron Sterns also cleverly toy with viewer expectations and keep us guessing about where the story is headed. In fact, the script seems to have taken its cues from Psycho, as potential protagonists are killed and we have no idea when the buck will stop.

Produced for a more generous sum than the original movie (reports place the budget at $7 million), Wolf Creek 2 is a smoother experience than its predecessor, with a larger scope and more polished production values. (Though a handful of shots look surprisingly low-quality, as if filmed with GoPro cameras.) It seems as if a bit of CGI was used, but there are some impressive moments pulled off with practical effects. A set-piece involving the destruction of a truck is sensational, the type of practically-achieved special effect that we rarely see these days. Another of Wolf Creek 2‘s biggest assets is its dark sense of humour. McLean peppers the movie with amusing vignettes that you’ll likely feel guilty for laughing at, including a sequence of Mick demolishing kangaroos with his truck to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Later, pleasant classical music plays over a brutal slaughter, a hilarious juxtaposition which gives the movie further flavour.

It’s amazing to consider just how much the cinematic marketplace has changed since the original movie, with the torture porn genre essentially disappearing in favour of PG-13 horrors and found footage productions. Fortunately, Wolf Creek 2 is a fucking brutal affair. Trimmed to avoid an R18+ rating in Australia, the film is nevertheless exceedingly violent and gory, but McLean also displays a surprising amount of tact. While Hostel and Saw dwell on the nastiness, McLean is smart enough to grasp that we don’t need to see everything, leaving some of the more horrific moments to the imagination. Wolf Creek 2 is not exactly scary like, say, The Conjuring, but it is terrifying. A scene set in Mick’s underground lair is the stuff of nightmares – it’s an unnerving sequence beset with chilling, horrific imagery; a testament to the effectiveness of the minimalist set design as well as the outstanding prosthetic and make-up effects.

Unfortunately, McLean does make one fairly notable error. To set the tone, Wolf Creek 2 begins with a scene of Mick slaughtering a couple of police officers who issue him a speeding fine simply out of boredom. The cops are one-dimensional cartoons, and the scene comes across as an excuse to increase Mick’s kill count. It’s enjoyable, to be sure, but it doesn’t entirely fit in with the tone of the franchise. Still, Mick’s one-liners are in full force here, with McLean again feeding the crazed murderer a stream of colourful dialogue to disperse. Mick is terrifying and borderline insane, but he’s such an entertaining character to watch, and Jarratt again sinks his teeth into the role with gusto. It’s hard to overstate the impressiveness of Jarratt’s work – he becomesMick Taylor. Inevitably, the rest of the performers don’t make quite as much of an impression, though Corr is rather notable due to how believable he is. He manages to sell his fear quite commendably, and a late scene allows Corr to give his character some meaty personality.

Regrettably, the focus of the Wolf Creek 2 is shifted to Mick, leaving his victims to receive ancillary roles. Indeed, it takes a while for the “main” character to even be introduced, and there’s very little time to get to know him before Mick begins his relentless pursuit. It took a solid half-hour for Mick to show up in the original Wolf Creek, as we were given time to acquaint ourselves with the three leads. The victims here are ciphers, making this sequel a bit less successful than its predecessor. Still, Wolf Creek 2 does play surprisingly well on its own merits, making it an enjoyable companion piece to the 2005 movie.