Based on an original idea by Peter Weir, The Last Wave concerns a young Sydney lawyer who, while defending four Aboriginal men against a murder charge, becomes troubled by dreams. He soon begins to feel the pull of magic forces beneath the surface of civilisation. A series of apparently random occurences assume a disturbing pattern and the city becomes a facade for a place of ancient ritual.
'Many films of the Australian New Wave (or Australian film renaissance) of the 1970s and 1980s can be defined as gothic, especially following Jonathan Rayner’s suggestion that “Instead of a genre, Australian Gothic represents a mode, a stance and an atmosphere, after the fashion of American Film Noir, with the appellation suggesting the inclusion of horrific and fantastic materials comparable to those of Gothic literature” (25). The American comparison is revealing. The 400 or so film productions of the Australian New Wave emerged, not in a vacuum, but in an increasingly connected and inter-mixed international space (Godden). Putatively discrete national cinemas weave in and out of each other on many levels. One such level concerns the reception critics give to films. This article will drill down to the level of the reception of two examples of Australian gothic film-making by two well-known American critics. Rayner’s comparison of Australian gothic with American film noir is useful; however, it begs the question of how American critics such as Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris influentially shaped the reception of Australian gothic in America and in other locations (such as Australia itself) where their reviews found an audience either at the time or afterwards. The significance of the present article rests on the fact that, as William McClain observes, following in Rick Altman’s footsteps, “critics form one of the key material institutions that support generic formations” (54). This article nurtures the suggestion that knowing how Australian gothic cinema was shaped, in its infancy, in the increasingly important American market (a market of both commerce and ideas) might usefully inform revisionist studies of Australian cinema as a national mode.' (Introduction)