Network Ten’s Wake in Fright
Directed by Kriv Stenders
Written by Stephen M. Irwin (based on the novel by Kenneth Cook)
* For a recap & review of Part 2, click here.
We open on a man running through the outback, dishevelled, bloody, holding a gun. Behind him, a vehicle is coming up fast, chasing him. What’s happened?
Cut to three days earlier, when we meet John Grant (Sean Keenan), a school teacher at Tiboonda Rural School. He’s a kind man, seeing his pupils off before Christmas vacation, wishing them all happy holidays. He’s headed off elsewhere, leaving Tiboonda. He’s headed for Sydney, though he’s a bit tired.
A roo jumps in front of his car, smashing up the hood and the windshield, sending him off the road. This is when the school teacher has to head back, put the animal out of its misery, as it flops half alive at the roadside. A woman in a cab stops by to pump a bullet in it before he has to do the deed. She offers to take him into Bundanyabba for the time being, so he can figure out his car situation, how to get to the big city.
Bundanyabba’s a small place. Rundown, quiet. A former booming mining town. On the way in they pick up a woman named Janette Hynes (Caren Pistorius). The cabbie, taking off with John’s bags, leaves them, so Janette can stitch him up. A fine start, indeed.
“What kind of man are you John Grant?”
At the Yabba International Motel, John finds his bags have been dropped off; that’s good, at least. The clerk, Donald (Fayssal Bazzi), isn’t exactly warm, and the prices aren’t what you’d expect for a motel in a town like Bundanyabba. John heads out for a bit. Before dropping into a bar he sees a man out late with a metal detector briefly. We get the impression our teacher isn’t a drinker, or that he’s avoiding it. It’s not exactly the place for it, a rough and tumble Outback bar.
And this is where he meets local cop Jock Crawford (David Wenham), who starts up a chat, offers a drink. So, John indulges in a pint. One leads to another. Like we saw earlier, he also keeps having a vision of his girlfriend Robyn (Hannah Fredericksen) on the beach amongst the waves. After a few drinks, Crawford wants to take his new friend to see “something interesting.” They go over to another establishment, one that serves food, also has a room where they gamble in a game called two-up. Hmm, interesting.
Of course after his meal, John heads into the room. He meets Doc Tydon (Alex Dimitriades) taking bets. Everything in Yabba seems partly based on faux masculinity, that if you don’t drink it means you CAN’T drink, not that you don’t want to, or that if you don’t gamble you’re not tough enough to handle it. Not just that, everybody’s out to make a buck off you. And so we see John is on the verge of getting lost, in the drink, in the gambling. You can tell by the look in his eyes.
In one night, John’s made himself a few thousand bucks. In the motel room, he’s got himself a ring. It’s clear he plans on asking Robyn to marry him. And with grand thoughts in his head, of what sort of honeymoon he’ll pay for with more winnings, he’s back at two-up. You can see where this is headed. He’s given the chance to play spinner. So he tosses the first coins, winning a round; not high enough, he has to spin again. The next toss spins a loss for him, and his cash is gone. He goes to the ATM for more, then it’s back in to gamble, losing more again. Afterwards. a woman named Mickey (Anna Samson) offers him a loan. He loses it right away, in debt to her for $500. Not to mention he’s lost his wallet. Big fucking trouble, mate. He wants to pay her tomorrow. If so, it becomes $1,000, and if he doesn’t pay, the next day it’s $2,000. Y’know the drill.
He wakes the next morning; naked, hungover on the floor. He missed checkout time, so it’s time to get going. And he’s stuck with no wallet, no cards, no money. Cripes, this is a rotten situation. In big part of his own making. However, it’s clear he’s been manipulated almost since the moment he arrived. This forces him to start his own manipulations, or at least try to, anyway. For now he’s kicked out of the motel.
Everywhere he goes, masculinity is challenged when he won’t just have a beer. Fella can’t even get a glass of water or a coke. And we know there’s alcoholism in his past, something bad, we just don’t know what yet.
Soon, John runs into Crawford and another cop named Sandy Fanshawe (Jada Alberts), they’re wondering about his lost wallet, his turbulent night. Seems the wallet’s turned up, out by the ATM. Or, is everything connected? Regardless, this puts him on the bad side of Jock, the locals, who believe he’s looking down on their small town.
“No, not in the Yabba.”
Unable to pull the cash he needs, John flees from the bar, from Mickey. She’s not happy, either. She’ll keep on looking. Plus, she’s got big Joe (Lee Jones) with her, and he’s tougher than galvanised fucking nails. John tells them his cards are cancelled. But they figure the “teacher needs a lesson.” Before anything bad happens, Tim Hynes (Gary Sweet) arrives. Mickey and Joe leave, then the other two go back inside for a drink, again. Once more he must prove he’s tough, that he’s manly, that he can drink. When he says he’s not married yet, he’s also suspected as “gay.” Oh, the rural life!
We come to learn that Tim is a well off lad. He takes John back to his place, a gorgeous home on the edge of town. He introduces the teacher to his wife Ursula (Robyn Malcolm), though she isn’t thrilled to have a guest. John finds that their daughter is Janette, whom he’s already met. And she looks a bit shocked to see him there. Strange.
They sit down for supper. Who should show up, but Doc, the man from the two-up room. Doesn’t look like the family loves having him around. Still, he’s invited to the table. Yikes. There’s a lot going on in the Yabba, a lot underneath the surface that’s just rotting away.
“The only problem with Yabba is, if you make a mistake around here eventually everyone knows.”
Later, Janette and John become intimate. She doesn’t look overly enthused, and after they’re done he vomits. Likely he’s sick with guilt, even if he went ahead, doing it on his own. Inside Tim is still trying to sell him a piece of property. This is when John asks for a favour, a loan. Doc brings up the gambling, which Tim hates. And he’s more upset that the teacher won’t be buying any property.
When John tries leaving, he passes out.
He wakes up at Doc’s place. Naked, in bed. Looks like something sexual has happened between them. Only John can’t remember. Everything’s getting sinister, right quick. A rape situation. Very ugly. The young teacher’s cut adrift in the Outback, nobody to trust, nobody to help.
Out at Doc’s place, Mickey and Joe turn up. John’s got debts to pay.
They go for a drive together, all of them. They wind up at a scrapyard, the gang’s hangout. When John goes poking around he finds a car with a couple framed pictures on it, covered in flowers; almost a memorial. He also finds what looks like a bit of meth cooking equipment, or something equally nefarious. A drug lab. Oh, my.
So what’s Mic got planned? She forces John to snort some with her first. They’re gearing up some guns. Heading out on a hunt. But what exactly are they hunting? “Not hunting rabbits tonight.” That’s all we or John know.
Wonder what’ll happen to John. So far from his comfort zone, so far from himself after only a day in the Yabba. How farther down can he fall?
Part 2 is next.