Wake In Fright – Ted Kotcheff – 1971

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Ted Kotcheff’s Wake In Fright, gave me fucking nightmares. Awesome though it is, it is a dark, sun-bleached trek through the Yabba. Essentially this film is a horror movie, where the monsters won’t let you not drink with them. I know, I know, sounds like a haunted house you’d love to get lost in, but really, what if you were there in that Haunted House and you were forced to drink and drink and drink until the fake horror becomes real horror. And then you are fucked mate.

John Grant is a school teacher on his way home for Christmas from his very remote teaching gig in the outback. He stops in Bundunyabba, or “The ‘Yabba.” Here, after being bought a dozen beers by the city cop, he looses his fortune gambling on a silly game of tossing coins in the air. From here, he is taken in by drinking man and introduced to Donald Pleasance who if fucking great in this film. He is a doctor who only drinks beer. Beer as payment, beer as food, beer as medicine.

The hospitality of these men is overwhelming to Grant, and these guys are sincerely lonely in their station in life. This outsider means there actually is an outside world, and attractive thought, and Grant is a very attractive man.  One smash up evening after another Grant spends with these miscreants, hunting Kangaroo and breaking everything they stumble upon.

The tension is palpable through the entire picture, every threat directed toward Grant felt and appreciated, due in no small part to Gary Bond. The film is dusty and drunken and one feels both dirty and soused afterward.  It is not unlike the cinematic equivalent of a hangover.

The film is a meditative look on a certain time and place in the world, where these lonely men had only booze and time and the desert to entertain them. As Grant, we enter the Yabba, a sad hell of a town and we find ourselves attracted, entrenched, imprisoned and then yearning to leave by any means necessary. The film is very trying, and wrings you out one emotion at a time.

If I have a complaint it is that the Kangaroo hunt goes on for way too long. It is incredibly gory and very, very real. We see the men hoot and holler as they spotlight ‘roos in the outback , and blast ‘em. It’s disheartening and really the moment where Grant has to slay a roo with his hands is the darkest, lowest part of his journey.

The film is cutting edge cinema, even forty years after it’s release. See this film if you love movies, there’s nothing quite like it.

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