Lost Aussie Thriller – WAKE IN FRIGHT
WAKE IN FRIGHT is a forgotten film that’s hard to forget.
It’s rare I see something that not only affects me, but also gets better the more I reflect on it. Though made in 1971, Ted Kotcheff‘s Wake in Fright disappeared until 2009 when it was restored and released to DVD and select theaters. The mysterious “lost” film status has definitely added to its appeal- as if the film itself now rises from the grave to haunt new generations of unsuspecting viewers. The tale of John Grant, a teacher (played wonderfully by Gary Bond) stuck in the Australian Outback working through his contract, the film opens at Christmas vacation, with our hero set to spend a much-needed holiday in Sydney with his lovely girlfriend. Of course there are no direct flights from the tiny miserable town, so he must first stop over in a place we’ll come to know quite well: “The Yabba.” While John isn’t pleased about spending the night in this town of unsophisticated hicks, he nevertheless decides to visit the local bar. There he discovers plenty of beer, a friendly Sheriff, and a gambling game called “two-up.” What follows is so tense, so mesmerizing, so insane, that regardless of whether you love or hate it it’ll no doubt affect you. While on the surface Wake in Fright is just a crazy story about a stuck-up British man getting drunk and living out his worst nightmare, on deeper levels it’s an examination of what it means to be a man, what it means to be human, and how far you have to be pushed to surrender your preconceived notions of “good” or “polite.” How far before you stop being a condescending asshole? How do you survive in a harsh wilderness from which there’s no escape? How does a civilized dude survive in a harsh emotional landscape when it’s socially unacceptable for him to show emotion? What’s it like to be so hungry for human contact that you’d welcome a fist fight? The characters that populate this film are fascinating: endearing in their simplicity while managing to be both tender and intimidating at once. And as menacing as it is, it’s also an absurd tale: more than once I found myself cringing and giggling at the same time. On top of which, the visuals are so rich and thick you could scoop them out with a spoon, and really feel every speck of dust and bead of sweat. So many movies have tried to depict a “descent into madness,” but the transformation John goes through here is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I won’t forget it anytime soon…and I don’t think I ever want to see a kangaroo or an Australian pint of beer ever again.