Wake in Fright will give you a hangover just from watching it. The amount of alcohol consumed in this sweaty, frightening film is headache-inducing.
Teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who, on vacation in Australia, meets a bunch of drunk and pretty crazy townsfolk, including Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasance, who gives an unbelievable performance as a learned maniac), and his own sanity starts to go downhill. I thought at first blush that this film might be close to Straw Dogs, but it’s less an us vs. them, as it is a me vs. me vs. them narrative.
It’s funny that outfits from 1971 Australia look exactly like modern hipster clothes:
Check out that tanktop-shorts combo. “Wake in Fright” could be the new 2015 style!
Ted Kotcheff’s film is filled with tight close-ups that get more and more grotesque as the film progresses (regresses? devolves?):
Here’s a quick look at some of Kotcheff’s blocking. That’s Grant frame right, with his newfound friend Tim Hynes (Al Thomas) and her daughter Janette (Sylvia Kay). The yellowish hue, which dominates the film is pretty sickening:
Janette exits from right and Kotcheff pushes into a tighter 2-shot on John and Tim-
-and soon cuts to a CU on John, with Sylvia now in the background and out of focus. That soft background is important. It keeps Sylvia in the same frame as John, ostensibly (and visually) pairing them. It also functions as a literal “back of the mind” for John:
This is somewhat typical blocking for Kotcheff and it really works. He uses a lot of foreground-background to keep John close to us and other stimuli hovering nearby. Like this shot-
-which reminds me also of this shot-
Both of which feature John (first in the foreground, second in the middle-ground), where other lesser characters stare at him, adding to a sense of imminent danger, paranoia, and general unease. That’s the major strength of this film. It’s so uneasy front to back.
There are so many great, strange side characters. Like this hotel manager who gets an amazing visual introduction:
Kotcheff uses a lot of blown out windows against an otherwise dark interior. It’s hangover territory here. Don’t open that door, John, or your head will explode!
There’s a kangaroo shooting sequence in Wake in Fright that is absolutely horrifying. I was going to get screen shots of it, but I didn’t really want to watch it again. It’s perfectly done in its attempt to disturb and also to show John’s further descent into the rugged mania of the small town where’s he staying.