LongWeekendFrom Australia, an almost-classic mood piece about nature turning on a young couple.  No, this definitely wasn’t the first film to utilize such a premise, but I can say with certainty that it is one of the most memorable.

Despite its flaws, the micro budgeted LONG WEEKEND (1978) stands near—or possibly even at—the top of the Australian genre boom of the late seventies/early eighties.  That boom includes PATRICK (1978), MAD MAX (1979), THIRST (1979) and ROADGAMES (1981), which incidentally was penned by LONG WEEKEND’S screenwriter Everett De Roche.  LONG WEEKEND also (though perhaps inadvertently) taps into one of the most popular subgenres of the time: the Nature-in-Revolt movie, of which there were quite a few in the seventies, mostly from the US.  FROGS (1972), PHASE IV (1974), WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? (1974), THE PACK (1977) and DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) are some of the more notable entries in the cycle.

Of course, none of the above films have a fraction of the artistry or imagination of LONG WEEKEND, which eschews the pseudo-scientific rationales popular in such fare (i.e. the destruction of the ozone layer causes all the world’s animals to turn on humans, the premise of the decidedly underwhelming DAY OF THE ANIMALS) in favor of an eerie account of the unexplained that’s closer in sprit to the early films of Peter Weir (PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, THE LAST WAVE) or even Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, surely the granddaddy of all Nature-in-Revolt films.

Peter and Marcia, a young Australian couple, find their marriage disintegrating; they decide to spend a three day weekend at a coastal campsite in a last ditch effort to improve their relations.  Driving out to the area, however, they inadvertently run over a kangaroo on the highway and a bit later plow through pristine undergrowth.  Such seemingly frivolous actions will turn out to have deadly consequences, and the stakes are raised when, once they’ve set up camp, Peter goes on a senseless shooting rampage, gunning down any animal that moves no matter how small or defenseless.

The strangeness begins slowly, as tiny animals begin attacking Peter, Marcia hears creepy wailing sounds and a long extinct sea monster washes up on the beach.  Peter discovers a near-deserted tent which holds only a growling dog.  Marcia, meanwhile, spots a suspicious shape in the ocean that turns out to be a submerged car with a dead body in the back seat.  Throughout it all Peter and Marcia discover, much to their consternation, that, far from bringing them together like they hoped, this vacation is actually straining their marriage to the breaking point.  Things get so bad that Marcia eventually jumps in the car and drives off, but finds the road back to civilization blocked by falling birds and tarantula ridden vegetation.  Peter, left alone in the wilderness, finds himself walking in circles and tormented by ominous sights and sounds.  He fires his gun a few times without looking at precisely what he’s hit—an unwise move, as it turns out…

This film is, in a word, atmospheric.  Stunning widescreen cinematography by Victor Monton and deceptively calm, picturesque locations work to conjure an oppressive ambiance of disquiet that kept me glued to the screen throughout the first hour, even though not a whole lot was really happening.  John Hargreaves and the frequently nude Briony Behets deliver solid performances, anchoring what is essentially a two character piece…although the real star is of course the scenery, which is made to look both beautiful and menacing.

Unfortunately, director Colin Eggleston can’t quite sustain his superbly wrought mood throughout the ninety minute length.  The narrative runs out of steam a little after the one hour mark; Hargreaves, after all, can only jump at so many shadows before monotony sets in.  The ho-hum ending, furthermore, was neither surprising nor shocking, at least to these jaded eyes.  Nevertheless, the film ultimately weaves a powerfully ominous spell that’ll definitely stay with you.  It may not be perfect, but it’s still far above average.

Vital Statistics

Dugong Films

Director: Colin Eggleston
Producer: Colin Eggleston
Screenplay: Everett De Roche
Cinematography: Vincent Monton
Editor: Brian Kavanagh
Cast: John Hargreaves, Briony Behets