Wake in Fright (1971)

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What can I say about a film that has become so legendary, it is often considered the definitive Ozploitation film, and one of the bedrocks of the Australian New Wave movement. Not much, but trying is all the fun, isn’t it?

At the outset, this film is shown to take place in a barren, dry wasteland – both in the appearance of the small town where John is a bonded schoolteacher, and in the nature of the events. But this little shanty-town is nothing compared to the “Yabba”, a little town Grant stops over in for one night before flying over to Sydney. Obviously if everything went according to plan, Grant wouldn’t have any problems. But of course nothing goes of plan, and Grant sees the dark side of the “no worries” attitude of the small-town Australian outback dwellers. Amongst the interesting inhabitants is Jock Crawford, a policeman played by the towering but benign Chips Rafferty, who is both friendly and terrifying. The best performance in the film comes from the legendary Donald Pleasence – slimy, eccentric and wise, this is the type of supporting performance that gets under a viewers skin and remains there, appreciation growing over time. 

The film is superbly made – Ted Kotcheff capture the dry, barren nature of the outback perfectly, and the visuals juxtapose my previous foray into reviewing Ozploitation, Picnic at Hanging Rock. However, there is one part of the film that I have to criticize, and anyone aware of this film knows exactly what I am thinking about – the kangaroo hunt. Probably one of the most brutal scenes I’ve seen in cinema, it is made even more violent by the fact that that was a real kangaroo hunt. I understand why it is in the film – it is the culmination of Grant going from dignity to deterioration, but my mindset alters on that scene from time to time, never agreeing on the opinion that it is either genius filmmaking or unnecessary brutality – and it is probably both.

As I said before in my review of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Australia independent cinema and Ozploitation is quite a daunting genre, because let’s face it – the 1970s were a turbulent time for movies – the Americans were trying to create solid entertainment with high production values, the Europeans were continuing their artsy New Wave, which left Australia to be a more obscure cinema source. They could really do whatever they want, be as sick as they desire and be as violent as they wanted to be. So very often, you have no idea what is coming in an Ozzie independent film, and that is what makes it so exhilarating – there are no boundaries or limits.

Wake in Fright is a terrific film, and is proof that we should take Australian cinema more seriously, because if this proves anything, it is that there are some hidden gems hiding in the Outback, and its our job to find and enjoy them. 

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