Friday, April 11, 2008
Long Weekend (1978)
Long Weekend follows city dwellers Peter and Marcia as they set out on a trip to a deserted beach during a holiday weekend. Peter is eager to rough it and has brought along thousands of dollars worth of camping gear, much to the chagrin of his citified wife, who would rather stay in a luxury hotel. Things start out bad enough when the couple hit a kangaroo on a deserted country road, and only get worse when they arrive at their destination, which strangely the locals have never heard of. With camp set up, tensions rise between the bickering couple, whose marriage has been on the rocks for some time. It doesn’t help that there are nightmarish screaming noises coming from the forest and the local animals are particularly aggressive, or that a dark shadow seems to stalk Peter every time he goes surfing.
The Australian precursor to Larry Fessenden’s (Wendigo, The Last Winter) eco-terror films, Long Weekend is a sort of cautionary tale about mankind’s relationship to nature, as well as a rumination on the disconnection of modern day people from the land. Not unlike Fessenden's movies, it finds nature mounting an all-out offensive against the environmentally irresponsible couple, who leave a trail of beer bottles, cigarette butts, and dead animals (Peter has bought a new rifle for the occasion) in their wake wherever they go. As Peter and Marcia’s quibbling and the sense of dread escalate, the film shifts to become an all-out horror-thriller, feeding on the couple's alienation from a seemingly benign environment that has suddenly become dangerously hostile.
Director Colin Eggleston expertly constructs the atmosphere of the film, and it’s to his credit that as things progress even the idyllic ocean and white sand beaches manage to be tinged with menace. His style is slow, deliberate, and lyrical, often conjuring up memories of fellow Australian Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, and the effect is similarly eery and perplexing. Complementing the film’s visual style is some particularly excellent sound design, through which the majority of the horror is constructed. A scene with Peter sitting alone around a smoldering campfire is perhaps the best, with the bizarre, haunting sounds of the Australian wilderness being distorted and altered to the point that they take on an almost otherworldly quality.
Although Long Weekend is a slow movie, Eggleston effectively layers the tension so that the film’s final third manages to be truly engrossing and not easily forgotten. It works as a pure thriller, but its message is also intelligently and subtly constructed. There was a possibility for it to play as a heavy-handed, pseudo-public service announcement, but the filmmakers manage to weave the themes into the picture seamlessly, thanks in no small part to some truly excellent acting from John Hargreaves and Briony Behets as the two principles. The relationship of man to his natural environment is a recurring trope in Australian cinema, from Weir’s early work with The Last Wave to Nic Roeg’s classic Walkabout, and Long Weekend, with its thoughtfully-constructed themes and truly disturbing atmosphere, is an under-appreciated gem that recalls the best of those films.