For the first half of Wolf Creek, two English girls and a boy from Sydney are driving into the Australian outback to visit a meteorite crater, and the viewer is hitching a ride with them. There are some lovely National Geographic views of cloud-streaked skies and exotic birds, but by and large this segment is almost as breezily uneventful as a tourist's video diary. As the three backpackers buy a car, stop for petrol, pitch their tents and go for a hike, they never once resort to one of those movie speeches explaining who they are, or what plans they have for their lives. Instead, there are just some well-observed scenes of flirting and messing around that don't tell us anything about the characters except that they behave exactly like real people do. That's why, when bad things happen to them, it seems especially horrifying. And, believe me, bad things happen to them.
All the laudable work that the Crocodile Dundee films did for the Australian tourist trade is undone at a stroke when the trio's car breaks down and they're offered a tow by a good samaritan - or, possibly, a fantastically evil samaritan. From then on, Wolf Creek hits us with as many twists and shocks as a generic horror film, but they're vastly more effective because it doesn't play by a generic horror film's rules. Aside from one questionable "let's split up" moment, the characters don't act in a nveniently idiotic fashion, nor, conversely, do they suddenly remember that they're sharp-shooting martial artists with diplomas in car maintenance. They're just ordinary people facing an ordeal so traumatising that you won't forget it in a hurry, as much as you might wish you could. Despite its off-the-peg title, Greg McLean's debut feature is one of the most distressing I've ever seen.
People always say that Sweden has the world's highest suicide rate, and, having watched Daybreak, I can understand why. Filmed with shaky handheld cameras, and with almost no soundtrack music to drown out the yelling, it cuts between three domestic encounters which take place over one evening, and all of which are as grim as can be. In one, a manic-depressive drug dealer, armed with a stun gun and a gutful of bile, breaks into her ex-husband's house. In another, an old couple loathe the modern world so much that they pay a builder to brick up the doors and windows of their home. And in the third, four friends have dinner together, and the affair that one of the men is having with the other's wife is just one of the secrets that's revealed. There is a daybreak of a kind, but there's a very long, very dark night of the soul to get through first.
Must Love Dogs (12A)
At the end of Must Love Dogs, there's a shot of two shaggy pooches, and the caption: "No animals were harmed in the making of this movie. Although we were petted to within an inch of our lives." That's the kind of film it is: never before has a romantic comedy been so insufferably sure - and so wrong - about just how darn adorable it is. It's a chick flick in which the heroine and her sisters spontaneously break into a Partridge Family singalong; a film in which Christopher Plummer recites Yeats in an Irish accent while a tin whistle tootles on the soundtrack. Still not unbearable enough for you? How about the fact that John Cusack handcrafts wooden boats for a living, or that Diane Lane's nursery school teacher owns a pristine mansion, or that the characters trade smarmy sitcom one-liners in lieu of conversation? Even when a small child has a nosebleed, he exclaims, "Good Lord, it's a gusher!" Anyway, if you're still interested, Lane is a divorcee who meets Cusack via an online dating site, and they live happily ever after.
Lords of Dogtown (12A)
Three years ago, a dynamic documentary called Dogtown and Z-Boys spun the legend of a teenaged gang from the slums of Venice, California, whose street-honed skateboarding revolutionised the sport in the mid-1970s. It was inevitable that a fictionalised film would follow, just as it was inevitable that it wouldn't be a patch on Dogtown and Z-Boys. And sure enough, although Lords o f Dogtown is written by Stacy Peralta, the director of the documentary, it's still a cleaned-up, dumbed-down version. That said, it's not a bad fable about the way an outlaw hobby can be packaged and sold by corporations.
Tell Me Something (18)
Bin bags stuffed with body parts are turning up all over Seoul, and, once the coroner has connected a few head bones to neck bones, it transpires that all the victims have the same beautiful woman in their past. Like R-Point, Tell Me Something comes to Britain as part of Tartan Films' Asia Extreme season, but it's more solid than extreme. A nocturnal police thriller released in Korea six years ago, it must have seemed awfully familiar even then to anyone who'd seen Sea of Love, Basic Instinct or Seven. As soon as you meet the hero's overweight partner, you know the poor chap's not going to be collecting his pension.
R-Point is a ghost story set during the last days of the Vietnam War, when a squad of Korean soldiers is shipped to a mist-wreathed island to search for the men who disappeared there six months earlier. It has the queasily spooky ambience of most recent Asian horror films, but it's the music that does most of the work, and the writer-director - who also scripted Tell Me Something - seems to be scrolling through a list of story ideas, without committing to any of them. By the time the soldiers have been haunted by friendly spectres, evil spirits, otherworldly radio transmissions, and a girl in a white dress who's just popped in from The Ring, we're too puzzled to be scared. R-Point is currently being remade in Hollywood by the director of Hero, and for once I suspect that the American version might be an improvement.Reuse content