Saturday, 15 August 2015

No.229 : Wake in Fright

Wake in Fright at the IMDb

Also known by the less ‘W’ friendly name ‘Outback’ this Australian film from 1971 (same as me!) is an unsettling experience which is hard to recommend but equally an affecting and memorable experience.

The film opens with a young teacher dismissing his class for the Christmas holidays. He’s clearly keen to get away but manages to grab one beer before catching the train to the nearest city, ‘The Yabba’. Our hero, John, has one night to spend in The Yabba before catching a flight to Sydney to meet up with his girlfriend, whom we only ever see in an idealised beach flashback.

John checks into cheap lodgings and pays his $4 rent in advance as well as a $1 deposit on the key - he’ll be grateful for that later! As the internet has yet to be invented John ventures out to a local bar where he meets several of the colourful locals, all of whom are suspicious of anyone who doesn’t like a drink. A tentative connection to the local police chief earns him several beers and soon he is as roaring drunk as the rest of the patrons.

He gets shown the local gambling den which involves hoards of men betting on how two spun coins will fall. Reluctant at first John enjoys some early luck and has soon made a fat pile of cash which he takes back to his room in triumph. As all gamblers know however, it’s never enough and he ponders over how one more successful bet could buy him out his hated teaching job in the outback.

As you will probably guess things don’t go well and after chasing his losses John is left flat broke, without money or his airline ticket. Given his penurious state John has to rely on the charity of the local barflies and is soon drinking heavily in their remote shacks. Donald Pleasance does a great turn as a dipsomaniac doctor and the posh mum from ‘Just Good friends’ is free with her charms as one of the men’s bored and slutty daughter.

As the party progresses John gets more and more ‘native’ and is soon knee deep in blood as the drunken men go on a late night kangaroo hunt. Can John pull back from the brink or is he lost forever in a downward spiral of beer and kangaroo meat? Will his last dollar and gifted gun be his redemption or a fast track to the afterlife?

I really liked this film despite my copy being somewhat ropey. Seemingly the film was lost and only recently restored - looks like I saw a ‘before’ version! This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as the bleached out colours perfectly depicted the heat and grime in every scene.

The film is probably uncomfortable viewing for Australians as, to a man, they are seen as drunken bullies and thugs. After shooting up the local kangaroo population they then set about destroying the only pub in miles - sacrilege! I’m sure a lot of commentary is intended towards the Australian male psyche and drinking culture, but in truth they are a horrible lot and I was only sorry the kangaroos didn’t take a couple of them with them.

You will probably have heard that the kangaroo killings were brutal and indeed they were. To be fair though, the scene was only about five minutes long and in mitigation they did eat what they killed. That said the man wrestling a kangaroo to death is uncomfortable viewing in anyone’s book, despite the disclaimer at the end that all kills were carried out by professional hunters during a sanctioned cull.

The twist towards the end was well done with the finale maybe a wee bit predictable but none the worse for that. Hopefully the teacher doesn’t have to complete a ‘What I did on my holidays’ essay too!

All in all this has to be essential viewing for anyone with an interest in cinema and although not enjoyable as such, it is definitely one that will live with you long after the last kangaroo burger has been digested.

Best Bit : Donald gets a bit fresh
‘W’ Score 21/23

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