Seven Underrated Australian Films You Should See

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We’ve teamed up with film critic Tristan Fidler – the man behind VHS Tracking and one half of RTRFM’s Movie Squad – to uncover some underrated Australian films you can add to your watchlist.

Wake In Fright (1971)

For anyone who’s ever felt the underlying hostility underneath someone pressuring you to “Have another drink, mate?”, Wake In Fright is a great Australian movie. This “lost” classic of the 1970s, an adaptation of Kenneth Cook’s novel by Canadian director Ted Kotcheff, follows a schoolteacher (Gary Bond) stuck in the Sydney mining town of Bundanyabba – ‘“the Yabba”. You feel the heat and sweat as the main character is stuck in an endless loop of countless games of ‘two-up’, drunken revelry at pubs, and even a kangaroo hunt (a disturbing sequence of a real hunt), which all adds up to a nightmarish journey. A horror movie of a different nature, this is an unforgettable film that bonds everyone who’s seen it. “New to the Yabba?”

YouTube Movies + Stan.


Charlie’s Country (2014)

David Gulpilil is one of our greatest actors and Charlie’s Country, one of several films he has made with auteur director Rolf De Heer (The Tracker, Ten Canoes), takes us into the world of his character, Charlie, an older Aboriginal man living in Arnhem Land. With a sense of humour displayed through Charlie’s cheeky side, we follow the difficulties faced with living in a settlement town with the white local law enforcement. When Charlie tries to return to the bush and live off the land, it is a struggle. Different problems await when he also tries to live in the city, the living repercussions of white colonial invasion. Through Gulpilil’s performance, as well as some of the beautiful natural landscapes filmed (in contrast to the prosaic feeling of the urban cities), it is a compelling and engaging journey worth taking.

YouTube Movies.


Long Weekend (1978)

Part of the ‘Ozploitation’ genre, this horror movie is a cut above for its ecological themes. In the same way that Jaws might have scared people away from the beach, Long Weekend might make you re-think camping, or at the very least, disrespecting nature. A couple, Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets), go for a weekend camping trip with their dog. Trampling bush, littering everywhere and killing the occasional animal, their innate carelessness necessitates a slow uprising from everything surrounding them, particularly every living animal surrounding them, a gleefully nasty comeuppance taking up the 92 minute run-time. It’s a unique, timely eco-thriller that is entertaining and unsettling (the presence of a dugong on the beach becomes a disturbing sight, for example).

SBS OnDemand


Dead End Drive-In (1986)

An underrated post-apocalyptic Australian movies from the 1980s that isn’t Mad Max, Dead End Drive-In envisions a world where cars are valuable and rare property, and their parts are fought over, stolen and traded. Made in an era when drive-in theatres were still popular, they are still in vogue in this movie’s future, but also hijacked by the authoritarian government to become concentration camps to house and separate the punks and rabble of society. When a young bloke nick-named “Crabs” (Ned Manning) – yes, this movie’s hero is named “Crabs” – takes his date unknowingly to one of these drive-in theatres, he wakes up the next day to find himself a prisoner in this micro society where the battle lines are drawn and racial-social prejudices are heightened. The type of Australian Eighties movie with a supporting role for Wilbur Wilde and Hunters + Collectors on the soundtrack, this is a fun, violent, neon-soaked, flame-tinged action movie that ends on one of the most expensive stunts filmed in Australia at the time.

Amazon Prime.


These Final Hours (2013)

Filmed and set in Perth, These Final Hours is a post-apocalyptic movie directed by Zak Hilditch, which considers what you’d do with your last day on Earth with an irreversible end to things approaching. Beginning as a road movie, detouring into a nihilist party and heading towards the beach, the movie focuses on the friendship that develops between James (Nathan Phillips) who saves a young girl Rose (Angourie Rice) and promises to reunite her with her father as all hell breaks loose on the streets and throughout the suburbs. A solid drama with engaging performances, surreal incidents and vivid imagery.

Stan Australia.


Somersault (2004)

Swimming with beautiful imagery and perfectly realised scenes of intimacy and confusion, Somersault is written and directed by Cate Shortland (currently tapped to helm the Scarlet Widow movie for Marvel). It also launched the talent of Abbie Cornish in the lead role as well as showing Sam Worthington’s range. Set in the NSW town of Jindabyne during the snowy season, which is where Heidi (Cornish) finds herself after running away from home after kissing her mother’s boyfriend. Meeting an inarticulate, sexually confused man named Joe (Worthington), they strike up a bond that serves them through their individual problems. Blanketed by a great score from postrock/electronica act Decoder Ring, Somersault remains a high point of Australian independent film from the 2000s.

SBS OnDemand.


Mary And Max (2009)

When animator and director Adam Elliott won an Oscar for Best Short Animation in 2004, it opened the doors for him to make his first feature length film. Mary And Max is an underrated feature that focuses on the friendship that blossoms between two unlikely pen pals, Mary, an eight year old girl (Bethany Whitmore) living in Mount Waverley and a forty year old New Yorker with Aspergers, Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Unfolding through narrated letters, hilarious sight gags and details, and over the course of several decades, this is quite a funny, dark, and ultimately moving story, one that remains truly unique in animation and Australian cinema.

SBS OnDemand


Follow instagram.com/vhstracking for more movie recommendations and upcoming Trash Classics screenings (Miami Connection is screening November 10 – tickets here).

Cover photo taken from Wake in Fright 

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