Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)

Wake in Fright, Ted Kotcheff’s disturbing 1971 drama, is the story of a lost weekend of toxic self-discovery for John (Gary Bond), a young middle-class English teacher in the middle of the Australian outback. Though he plans a trip to Sydney over the Christmas break to see his beautiful girlfriend, a series of bad decisions leads him into a catastrophic mess of a weekend of gambling, hunting and alcoholism with some new acquaintances of dubious moral conscience. We go on the awful journey with him, as he gets chewed up and barely spat out the other side, all in the isolated nothingness of Bundanyabba.

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And I thought I was watching a Harvey Dent origin story.

Gary Bond’s excellent performance is paired with an equally excellent one from Donald Pleasence, an alcoholic doctor who exists without working, taking his purpose from a relentless alcoholism. His enthusiasm for misbehaving is the catalyst that leads our main character further down a slippery path, just when we hope he’ll pull himself out of it. It’s a show stealer, and to compliment this his Australian accent is flawless.
The colour wash throughout the day scenes are scorching hot yellows, reds and oranges. It’s a clever technique to make you feel the heat. You can see the sweat dripping from the sun-baked characters, and can almost smell the day-old stench of alcohol on their hungover breath. Frankly, by the end of the film I wanted a shower.

The main talking point is a ten-minute scene that depicts an awful kangaroo hunt that the main party of four go on. The Masters of Cinema release dedicates a lot of time to it in the booklet and on-disc features, and will do it more justice than I can manage. All I’ll say is that it’s truly horrific, especially knowing it was basically just the filming of a real kangaroo hunt. Sickening stuff.

I strongly recommend this one. Just don’t watch it if you’re a fan of kangaroos.

Wake in Fright is available now on Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray and DVD.

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