Much like the forlorn, tortured soul of Rambo and the brainwashed mind of Danny Stevenson in Split Image, Wake In Fright‘s disorientated lead character once again proves Ted Kotcheff’s ability to capture torment and dread with finesse. With the original negative thought to be lost, the classic, cult film, has now had its restoration, a re-run in cinemas, and is newly available on DVD and Bu-Ray. The stunning visuals and meticulous accent on atmosphere has now got glorious definition, making this a must-buy for film fans.
Marked by controversy and the story of its print’s loss, Wake In Fright has had a life of its own outside its plot. Within that plot, however, are a far more gripping and shocking set of events. It leaves the film both historically and artistically striking. With a pivotal scene including the cull of many real kangaroos, Wake In Fright acquired a notoriety. Thankfully, that notoriety also earned it a lot of followers. You watch the film now and you can see the influence it has had not only on Australian cinema but the entire sub-genre of hallucinatory horror.
We follow a polite, smart Brit (John Grant’s Gary Bond) planted in the Australian outback before his holiday. What begins as a simple pit-stop turns into an invitation into the very heart of Bundanyabba – a town where everything feels off yet the townspeople see no abnormality in their actions. Those actions include copious drinking, a habit that leads Gary to sweaty men’s clubs, kangaroo culls and witness to far-from lucid behaviour.
Gradually building on the tension, Kotcheff’s piercing eye on all this is wonderfully stylistic. Some may view it as over-the-top, prime for parody, yet it’s also contained in the 1970’s setting, where there still remained archaic, ignorant laws and bizarre characters. At one point we see Gary walk down the street, dishevelled, and with a rifle in his hand; passers-by just look on in bewilderment rather than fear – an odd image if you tried to think of it in contemporary terms.
Despite sensing some of the time lapse, Wake In Fright still resonates, overall. The notion of getting drawn into a culture or giving in to peer pressure is universal and timeless. Set in the Outback, it also allows for the extraordinary backdrop to be married with this common theme. If Gary is the everyman we are keen to follow and support, the Outback is something we’re intrigued about – especially given its effect on the protagonist. In sum, it keeps you thoroughly gripped; a series of unpredictable incidents collaged together with gorgeous cinematography and palpitating edits. There’s a life to the film – one than could have been forgotten and buried along with its nearly-destroyed print – that needs to be experienced.