When Greg McLean's Wolf Creek 2 screened in the 9am slot on Friday the majority of journalists preferred sex over violence on their post-breakfast menu and instead opted to see Paul Schrader's erotic thriller The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan.
“It was laughable but I had to see it,” one critic told me of the Bret Easton Ellis-scripted project, which had already flopped in the US and was largely screening at the festival because Schrader was on the jury. Like many other journalists, he had been under the impression that the troubled actress would show for the movie, even if she had cancelled at the last moment. Prior to that, hefty fees were being asked for print journalists to interview the actress: EUR1,500 (AUD2,200) if you interviewed her alone, though only EUR1,000 (AUD1,400) if you were prepared to be in a group.
By then it was unfortunately too late for them to go see Wolf Creek 2. Ultimately the Variety review positioned the Australian film as commercially viable. “Neither as striking nor as fundamentally scary as its predecessor, this pumped-up, robustly crafted pic is still quite a ride, and one that genre-inclined distribs should have no qualms about hitching.”
McLean says he wanted to take a different approach with this follow-up to his 2005 hit. The gore is still there, but in the second half he has John Jarratt's maniacal bushman, Mick Malloy, toying with his prey, a British tourist played by Ryan Corr, in an interrogation-torture scene spanning half an hour.
“In the second film we learn more about the psychology of the character and how deeply troubled he is,” McLean explained at the film's press conference.
At one point during the torture scene, the pair sing 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport', the Rolf Harris ditty which has the potential to take on a whole new meaning (the famous children's entertainer has been charged with nine counts of indecent assault and four counts of making indecent images of a child).
“The song was chosen because it's an iconic piece of pop culture,” explains McLean, “but there's an undercurrent of creepiness when you listen to the lyrics that I picked up on and that's why the song's in there. I mean we wouldn't pull it out of the film as it wasn't in there because of Rolf Harris.”
Jarratt : “To be honest that's a ludicrous suggestion. It's like saying that Tarantino gets half way through Inglorious Basterds and realises it's about a horrible person called Hitler, so he'd better pull the plug.”
The most enthusiastic reception for a film at the festival so far has been for Stephen Frears' Philomena, which is already been touted as a likely Oscar contender. The adoption drama, co-written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, is at its heart an odd couple story with a lot of laughs, even if the subject matter of Coogan's journalist helping Judi Dench's naïve Irish woman find the child the Catholic Church removed from her as a teenager, is deadly serious.
If anybody deserves a best actress gong in the coming awards season, Dench, who remains at the height of her dramatic powers, surely does. Most likely the 78-year-old, who been nominated for an Oscar on six occasions and only won for best supporting actress in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love, will be vying with Cate Blanchett, who seems a shoo-in for a nomination for Blue Jasmine. Variety pundit Timothy Gray also includes Mia Wasikowska as a contender for her portrayal as Robyn Davidson in the Australian film Tracks, noting the actress “is onscreen the whole time in a role 180 degrees from recent work like Stoker and Alice in Wonderland”.