Overused?: John Jarratt as Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek 2 gets mixed reviews.
The Australian contingent at the Venice Biennale, the world's oldest film festival, has made a strong start, with mixed-to-positive reviews for Greg McLean's Wolf Creek 2 and raves, plus a crucial distribution deal, for John Curran's Tracks.
The American-born director's film, based on Robyn Davidson's account of her 1977 trek across the Australian outback in the company of a team of camels, has been picked up by The Weinstein Company for North American distribution.
What is meant to be a terrifying climax in Mick's lair becomes a one-note, darkly comic (but not especially funny) meditation on British-Australian relations.
Hollywood legend Harvey Weinstein will be hoping the omens are good and he can repeat the success his company enjoyed with The King's Speech, which was similarly produced by Emile Sherman and Iain Canning's See-Saw Pictures.
Shannon Ashlyn as Katarina and Phillipe Klaus as Rutger in Wolf Creek 2.
"The response to this film out of Venice and [US festival] Telluride was nothing short of astounding, and is well-deserved," Harvey Weinstein said in a statement. "We've had great experiences in the past working with Emile Sherman and Iain Canning, and are thrilled to be on board with such talent as John Curran, Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver."
Wasikowska's turn in the lead role has been roundly praised in reviews out of Venice. Variety's Justin Chang hailed it as a "fine and flinty performance" that feels "authentically jagged and lived-in".
Matt Mueller, on website Thompson On Hollywood (via indiewire), said: "Wasikowska gets the balance of her performance exactly right. Still and reactive rather than ostentatious or emotional ... the actress conveys Davidson's fiercely private, misanthropic nature while never losing our sympathy or admiration. It's a model of restraint just like Curran's film."
Mia Wasikowska plays Robyn Davidson, who makes epic camel trek across the Western Australian outback in Tracks.
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney hailed the film as a "richly sensorial" and "visually majestic" piece of work.
It is, he wrote, "a stirring depiction of the clarity and self-discovery that can come with isolation in nature, and probably the best film of its kind since Sean Penn's Into the Wild".
Only The Guardian's Xan Brooks demurred, noting the "languid, glossy elegance" of Curran's direction but wondering what the point of it all was.
"Robyn is marching to the ocean and that's our final destination. But Tracks, in the meantime, has gone walkabout without a compass, without much of a purpose besides taking the view. The tale wanders lazily in endless, pretty circles."
Greg McLean's long-anticipated sequel to his 2005 smash Wolf Creek paints a very different view of remote Australia.
This is a landscape ruled over with merciless terror by John Jarratt's serial killing Mick Taylor, a man who looks, according to Variety's Guy Lodge, "not unlike Hugh Jackman's similarly mutton-chopped Wolverine gone rather badly to seed".
Lodge's mixed review claimed the film was "neither as striking nor as fundamentally scary as its predecessor", but declared "this pumped-up, robustly crafted pic is still quite a ride".
The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young had a similarly mixed response, hailing McLean's "superb grasp of technique and his talent for inducing major fear in audiences" while suggesting "it lacks the third dimension of great horror films, which would somehow tie its lesson about evil in to people's lives".
She did, however, hail the film's "very fine acting", "highly atmospheric cinematography", and "the occasional note of black humor", while predicting Jarratt "seems calmly poised for an eventual Part 3".
The verdict from Empire's Damon Wise, however, was less generous. In his view, Jarratt is no longer "a genuinely menacing screen presence", as he is "over-exposed and given far too much to say", with the result that "what is meant to be a terrifying climax in Mick's lair becomes a one-note, darkly comic (but not especially funny) meditation on British-Australian relations".
Two more Australian films in the festival are yet to screen. Ruin, shot in Cambodia by Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody, will make its debut on Monday night (Venice time), while Kitty Green's documentary Ukraine Is Not a Brothel screens for the first time on Wednesday.