Review: Wake in Fright / Cert: 18 / Director: Ted Kotcheff / Screenplay: Evan Jones / Starring: Gary Bond, Donald Pleasance, Chips Raffety, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson / Release Date: March 31st
A 1971 Australian classic, Wake in Fright is almost a dirty little secret of cinema. Adapted from Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel of the same name, the film made its world premiere at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, nominated for the prestigious Palme D’Or. After a badly handled US theatrical run, it then fell off the radar, not even garnering a VHS or DVD release. Now, thanks to some extreme digging and restoration work, Wake in Fright is set to get the attention and praise that it deserves.
The story focuses on John Grant (Bond), a very British teacher who is teaching in the Australian outback. Tied to a contract that he cannot afford to pay his way out of, Grant looks down on his surroundings. When a planned trip to Sydney sees him having to spend a night in the mining town of Bundanyabba, his life begins to change before his eyes. One night turns to five, and, before he knows it, he’s submerged in an alcohol-infused milieu of gambling, hunting and ‘mateship’ – a world that he detests. By the time the movie comes to a close, Grant finds himself becoming what he hates, stranded in a world where he has no future and his best option could be staring back at him from the chamber of his rifle.
A stunningly surreal film, Wake in Fright is covered by a warm hue throughout, as this brand new restoration gives off enough heat and humidity from the Australian outback to have you reach for the suntan lotion. Equally as striking are the performances on show. John Grant is absolutely note-perfect as the stiff-upper-lipped Englishman stranded in an environment that he couldn’t be any further removed from. Engulfed by a batch of characters that down pints as easy as fat kids devour Chicken McNuggets, Grant is great as the rose surrounded by thorns. One particular ‘thorn’ is the always-entertaining Donald Pleasance as Doc, an apparent doctor whose picnic is completely devoid of any sandwiches whatsoever. For those of you only familiar with Pleasance as Sam Loomis in the Halloween movies, this role amps the crazed nature of that role up to 11.
We can’t say enough great things about this release and the extras are plentiful and rewarding. That said, there are some certain scenes that are very, very disturbing, involving footage of real kangaroos being slain. Krotcheff was strongly encouraged by The Royal Australian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to use as much real footage as possible in order to highlight the day-to-day issues surrounding the slaughter of kangaroos. These scenes are truly disturbing but if you can take them for the statement they were intended to make, Wake in Fright is a must-have.
Extras: Audio Commentary / Four Featurettes / TV Spot / Trailer / 48-page booklet