26th Mar2014

‘Wake in Fright’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle, Al Thomas, John Meillon, John Armstrong | Written by Evan Jones | Directed by Ted Kotcheff


John Grant (Gary Bond) is a bonded school teacher who finds himself teaching in the outback.  When travelling back to Sydney he stays overnight in the mining town of Bundanyabba where the lure of gambling and alcohol soon traps him in a nightmare.  Seemingly trapped in his own hell Grant clings to the hopes of Sydney while his life spirals to a point so low that the only escape may be the one bullet he has left in his rifle.

At the start of Wake in Fright John Grant is an educated man who looks at his current situation as a form of slavery to the system, being a bonded teacher means that he has to work wherever he is put, and the fact he’s in the Outback does not fit with his own outlook on life.  On arriving at Bundanyabba he’s pulled into a world where beer must be drank in one go, and Friday night means a chance to bet away your weekly wage for no reason at all but that uplifting feel of actually winning.  Putting all the money he has into the game with the hope of winning enough money to not have to live the life he leads is pretty much his downfall, though of course we could argue he gets a taste of another life, one that makes him realise just how bad life can be.

Wake in Fright is a film that may not be seen as a horror film, but I would argue that in a psychological sense it very much is.  The character of John Grant reaches the very bottom, losing himself in alcohol and having only one dollar to his name he has to rely on the kindness of others to help him, far from what he expects of himself.  What this is for him though is a wake-up call, and the man to give him it is Donald Pleasence’s character Doc Tydon.  A man very much like Grant, but who accepts his place in “The Yabba” because it fits what he wants out of life.  The very fact that he likens the place to hell in his first conversation with Grant hints at just who he is.  If we say that John Grant is in his own personal hell, then Doc Tydon is the Devil ready to pull him down to the inescapable depths.

In a way I can understand why Australia tended to ignore Wake in Fright, or as it is also known Outback.  Though fictional there is a feeling of realism in the tale of John Grant and the way he is trapped in a small mining town.  Another touchy subject could also be the kangaroo hunting used to show the Grant character in his descent to the lowest point of the film, and for many it may be too much to stomach.  These scenes are uncompromising and harsh so fans of Skippy may have to skip these scenes, especially with Grant’s own fight with one of the young injured creatures.  The scenes have their desired effects, not only on the character but the audience itself and it is a hard watch.

Wake in Fright is a film that should be watched by movie lovers, especially as it was seen as a lost treasure for so many years.  It may be a hard watch, but in the end it’s worth it and the very fact that Ted Kotcheff made it such an experience shows how powerful the movie is to this day.  Is this the Australia that produces characters such as Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor? In many ways it is, but we have to remember that these are a fictional Australia showing the extremes of human nature.  The fact that the outback produces characters that we see in films like Wake in FrightWolf Creek and even Mad Max though show how unique the setting is for films.

Wake in Fright is available in dual format DVD and Blu-ray from 31st March.

***** 5/5

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek.com

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