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Friday, October 16, 2009

8. Long Weekend

Long Weekend (1978)
dir. Colin Eggleston
Fright Level: 5/10
Scare Type: atmosphere, slow burn, psychological, domestic.
Subgenre: ecological horror.

Long Weekend got doubly lost in the mix of a tremendous genre year, 1978, and a prolific year for the young Australian film industry (Peter Weir's flawed but interesting The Last Wave was probably the environmental Australian horror film which got the most attention from that year). However, upon seeing this film, I was quickly able to understand how it has developed a following, and upon its release, was celebrated in Europe.

The film concerns Peter and Marcia, an upper-class Australian couple experiencing marital problems. So it makes sense to spend a 3-day weekend camping on a secluded beach right? There are two things the film makes known right off the bat: first, sound is going to be important, and second, these are two characters you're not going to like.

Something happened to Marcia and Peter hopes that some time together in the wilderness will do them some good . The two get lost on the way, but eventually Peter finds and sets up camp (he purchased state of the art camping gear for this weekend, suggesting he's probably not much for the outdoors). The couple bickers, but are interupted by a horrible animalistic cry. This seems to bother Marcia far more, especially as she begins to see a strange shape in the water. Peter on the other hand is content with cutting trees up, getting drunk, and shooting things. The great Australian actor John Hargreaves plays Peter in such a way that he can be an absolute horrid person but at the same time come across as deeply human. Vulnerable but also strong enough to hide it. It's a marvelous performance for a horror film, one highlighted by the fact that he really doesn't speak for the last third of the film. The couple wake up the next morning to find a mysterious neighbor down the beach, and that the even the ants seem a bit aggressive toward them. And of course things get interesting...

This is partially a domestic horror film, with the two leads at each others throats in a place which can be read as an embodiment of their inner states, partially an environmental horror film in the same vein as The Birds, but more than anything, its a revenge picture, only instead of a person its nature getting her revenge on the people who raped her. The mood and atmosphere are absolutely perfect; its smart and has a sense of humor that is neither clever nor disruptive of the seriousness of the events. The soundtrack is matched perhaps only by The Shout in terms of being both experimental, metaphysical in some respects, representative, and scary. And aside from the quasi-diageticly manipulated nature sounds, those things that sound almost human, almost animal, almost electronic in the night, is the added effect of the presence of the radio news, an element which worked so well in Texas Chain Saw (which the film may or may not be undercutting in the final scene), that serves a similar purpose here, to establish a near-apocalyptic immediacy to the film. The film is also beautifully shot, a rarity for exploitation films, especially from this time period and from a young industry, and there are two amazingly choreographed reveal shots as well as a long tracking shot as impressive as any I can think of.

The message may seem heavy handed outside of the experience of viewing the film, that if you mess with nature, you're gonna pay, but the film is able to concern us so deeply with the survival of these two characters who aren't even very likable, that we are drawn in by the immediacy of their struggle. And any movie that can make something like a sea cow so creepy gets bonus points in my book.

BTW: producer Richard Brennen was at the screening tonight at Walter Reade and assured us that aside from the ants, no animals were harmed in the making of this film.

Similar films: The Shout (they just feel so much alike, even though they aren't about anything similar), The Birds.

Post Script: As I wrote this I realized that Antichrist bears a number of similarities with this film: both concern a struggling couple after a trauma who go to nature and then are tormented by that nature. There is a sexual component tied to nature that corresponds with an emotional disconnect between the two individuals. So, if you're interested by that film, save your money and give this one a look.

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