Saturday 23 July 2011

Wake in Fright (1971)

I really enjoy Australian genre cinema: it has a unique atmosphere that I think derives from a deep-rooted fear of the environment, of the ancient history of the place and, in some cases, of the people.  Australia is a country where the vast majority of the population clings to the edges, around the coast.  There they are near food, near other like-minded people and also near to the possibility of escape.  You don't have to go very far inland to reach a beautiful but inhospitable wilderness that promises death to the careless or foolish.  Australian genre films, and the horror films in particular, reflect the stark and immediate contrasts between civilization and savage, security and peril, familiar and alien.  Classic examples are PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, THE LAST WAVE, LONG WEEKEND, WALKABOUT, but modern Australian genre cinema continues that trend in, for example, ROGUE, BLACK WATER and THE REEF.

WAKE IN FRIGHT, directed in 1971 by Canadian journeyman Ted Kotcheff, very much follows those themes while defying easy categorization.  It's not a horror film, although there are horrific situations in it; it's not a thriller, although there are thrilling situations in it; and neither is it a psychological drama, although there are elements of that too.  I suppose, like many of the very best films, it simply is what it is.  It tells the story of a young teacher who stops over in the town of Bundanyabba, on his way home to Sydney for the Christmas holiday; there he falls under the spell of several of the town's strange but strong-willed characters who directly and indirectly prevent him leaving.  It stars Gary Bond, an English actor who had a small part in ZULU, Donald Pleasence and some great Australian actors: Chips Rafferty, Jack Thompson and John Meillon.

If I had to have a stab at trying to describe it I'd say it was a like cross between Sam peckinpah's STRAW DOGS and Martin Scorsese's AFTER HOURS.  But really you'd have to see it for yourself because it really is unique.  I can't recommend it highly enough.  If you do seek it out, it's worth bearing in mind that it was also known as OUTBACK.

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