Wake in Fright is an Australian movie that has barely been seen since its 1971 debut at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite being nominated for a Palme D'Or, the movie was poorly marketed and never released to VHS or DVD. The film is, according to Wikipedia and marketing materials, Australia's great "lost film." It is unquestionably great.
Wake in Fright, also known as Outback, tells the story of schoolteacher John Grant, who, on his way to Sydney for Christmas vacation becomes stranded in the arid mining town of Bundanyabba. There he meets several locals who introduce him to the gritty and hard-drinking way of life in "the Yabba." He subsequently loses his money on a gamble, forcing him to rely on the charity of strangers for the remainder of his stay.
And things only spiral out of control from there.
Wake in Fright feels like a bad dream, a nightmare, a purgatory of sorts from which Grant cannot escape. Every time he tries to get out, the Yabba reaches out and pulls him back in, deeper than before.
Gary Bond stars as Grant and delivers a visceral, gripping performance. The movie itself is a visceral experience, the product gritty, nihilistic and raw. Director Ted Kotcheff, working off a screenplay by Evan Jones (who in turn adapted Kenneth Cook's 1961 novel), lays all his cards on the table. Like Grant and the Yabba, the movie grabs you and doesn't let go, and even when awful things happen you can't look away.
Wake in Fright is a sensational experience, one that should not be overlooked. It's not a lost film anymore, but it is still a great one.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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