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quietearth [Celluloid 01.24.13] cult thriller drama



Describing Wake in Fright as an "Ozploitation" film is actually kind of lazy. While the title makes it sounds like a typical maniac outback horror - the original Wold Creek, if you will - the reality is the film is much more interesting than that, quintessentially Australian and psychologically more shocking.

Directed by Ted Kotcheff (First Blood) and released in 1971, Wake in Fright is considered something of a lost gem and I would clock it next to Walkabout or Last Wave before Mad Max. Essentially it is a film that attempts to show the awful spiral of drunken nastiness and thick-headedness of people who live in poverty stricken rural Australian towns. And how they can suck your soul away until you're a mere shadow of a human being.

It tells the nightmarish story of a hipper-than-thou young school teacher on his way to Sydney who's train stops over in the rural Australian town of Bundanyabba. Venturing out into the night for a quick drink, he meets a local Sheriff who invites him to join him for a drink. That drink turns in to many more and by the morning he's missed his train and ran out of money. Tapped in the town, what follows is a descent into personal demoralization at the hands of drunken, deranged locals who will seemingly stop at nothing to drag this man into their world of awfulness - and the worst part is, that through the course of the film, they kind of succeed.

Wake in Fright is clearly coming from a place of contempt for beer-soaked, illiterate townies and the shit that goes down when too much booze, poverty isolation is at play. At the centre of the film is it's most shocking and infamous segment. A mean-spirited Kangaroo hunt featuring real footage of Kangaroo's being shot by poachers. This is some hard shit to watch and the film has been released in various cuts because of it. For better or worse, Drafthouse Films have re-assembled all the footage for our viewing (dis)pleasure.

All in all, Wake in Fright is definitely a high watermark of 70s Australian cinema. In much the same way as the movie brats were changing the face of Hollywood cinema in America, Wake in Fright offers a visceral take on the inhabitants of the Australian Outback... and it ain't pretty.

The Blu-ray of Wake in Fright is available from Drafthouse Films.





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