Movie Review: Wake in Fright
Reviewed by Michael Fett
With each new film that I go see in the theater lately I leave disappointed like I have been cheated. The only thing the studios want to deliver to us lately seems like sequels to franchises, Battle Royale like films in a dystopian future, comic book movies, and remakes. Where are the films with plot development, story, and suspense? Has Hollywood been brainwashing us to accept mediocrity? How come good films go unnoticed by the general public?
Maybe because Hollywood tells the major chains what films we are to see. Unless the film is a mega hit in a great film is in and of the theaters within 3 weeks before word of mouth could save a film. If you live in Phoenix the only place you might catch a good film at that is thought provoking maybe Harkins Camelview 5 and Tempe Art, but do not worry that is about to change in a few years.
The Phoenix Metro area is about to get an Alamo Drafthouse. Drafthouse goes out of their way to bring foreign, films from the past that went unnoticed that they feel needs special recognition, and independent films in which Drafthouse releases underneath their special DrafthouseFilms banner. I would even go out of the way to say if you like the monthly Cult Classics AZ by artist Victor Moreno you will love the films released underneath the DrafthouseFilms banner.
I came across DrafthouseFilms when I was looking for a replacement company for Criterion who like Drafthouse were releasing movies they felt were important. The problem with Criterion is the company started releasing too many movies to keep up with and I started to question their choices. One day I was asked to setup a horror track of good films that the general public may not have seen. That was hard a job because that relied on me researching databases for award winning films that most people did not have at home. One site suggested a film called Wake in Fright which was released in the United States by Drafthouse Films.
Wake in Fright was a thriller film released in Australia in 1972 directed by First Blood director Ted Kotcheff and starring Gary Bond and Donald Pleasence. If you stopped to watch the film on television you at first might think you are watching a scene from Crocodile Dundee because a lot of the cast in this film is in Crocodile Dundee, but that is about all they share in common. The only notes I found on this film was that certain sequences were so disturbing in 1972 that a lot of the Australian audience left in the middle of the movie. As a result the production company decided never to allow the film to be shown on television or be released on home media. As a result the film became a dead film that the legend of these disturbing scenes grew year by year.
I wanted to see what so disturbing that a film could not be released. Luckily in 2008 enough time passed that film was restored for the Australian public in which Drafthouse Films picked up the release rights for the United States. I bought the Blu Ray after reading the history of this film. I chose however not to watch this film until I was surrounded by a crowd because I was more intrigued on how they would react to certain scenes.
Wake in Fright follows the story of school teacher John Grant. Grant is tired of his life and job and wants to teach at a different location. Only problem is the state paid for his education and until Grant pays back the state he is stuck in the big city as a slave to the nation. Grant’s only relief comes during winter vacation while he awaits the new school year to start.
Grant decides to take a vacation to see his girlfriend in Sydney. Only problem is he has to switch trains in a small mining town called the Yabba in the middle of Timbuktu. While he awaits for the train to come the next day he visits a bar in which gambling takes place in a game called Two Up. Grant studies people play the game until he thinks he has the hang of the game.
Grant appears to have the hang of the game and is winning money while he plays. The only problem is Grant thinks he is now good enough to win enough money to pay back the state, unfortunately for Grant he loses everything. Grant is now stuck in Yabba needing to earn money to get out of the town. Grant must rely on the charity of strangers to gain enough money to be able to return home. The problem is most people in the town are bullies from being alcoholics.
Fortunately for Grant, Doc Tydon is willing to take him in no questions asked while he raises money. From here we watch the slow decline of Grant as he becomes an alcoholic himself and begins to accept the fact that he may never leave this town as he lies awake in fright for what his future may hold for him. The film climaxes with Grant and Doc going on a kangaroo hunt in which was a real kangaroo hunt filmed for the movie. Grant disgusted with the horror of the hunt returns later to Doc’s shack in which Doc’s real intentions for Grant becomes clear.
Grant flees Doc’s house and decides to walk across the desert to get to Sydney anyway he can including hitchhiking. Like a scene out of The Prisoner there seems to be ne escape from Yabba because he is taken back there by a person he hitches ride from by mistake. Grant now clinically insane decides the only way out of Yabba is death. The problem with Yabba is suicides are botched as well.
Grant wakes in a hospital recovering in Yabba. Once Grant is well enough to travel Doc sends Grant back home. The film closes with Grant back teaching at the start of the school year a bit wiser than he was before.
Wake in Fright while not a true a horror film is about as close to real horror in life as you are going to get. The film beautifully shot shows a man slipping deeper and deeper into depression from the start of the film till the end of the film. Raises the question how much can a person take in life before suicide is the answer. A lot of the scenes are rough, raw, and in your face like the real kangaroo hunt shot for this film. Including the sequence, where the intestines of a kangaroo are literally hanging out of its body while the kangaroo is hopping for its life before the kangaroo passes out and dies right in front of our eyes.
No wonder why when the film was rereleased in 2008 a large number of people would get up and leave. Wake in Fright is one of the best films you will ever get to see, but mark my words the film is not for the light of heart, animal rights activists, or children. Even Australian musician and screenwriter Nick Cave calls Wake in Fright "The best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence." As long as you do not fall underneath one of those categories you should put Wake in Fright on the top of your must see movie list because the film is now considered to be an Australian classic.
Next time turn in for a review of an Italian film called The Visitor featuring the real Django of films Franco Nero.