FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Apr 24, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 7

Wow! Who knew that at some point during Animals Run Amok Week 2 I'd actually watch a movie that's good? Certainly not me! Lo and behold, however, today I watched the low-budget Australian gem Long Weekend (1978), and lo and behold again- as I said, it was good. During the course of the film, I pinched myself several times to make sure I wasn't dreaming; then I slapped myself for getting a little too "fresh" with the pinches. As you can well imagine, I'm not about to be slapped around by anyone, so I kicked myself in the ya-ya sisterhood and lemme tell ya, that put an end to the shenanigans right quick.

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a bitter yuppie couple who, along with their dog Cricket, head out to Moonda Beach for a long weekend (omigod that's the name of the movie). The pair have been fighting incessantly as of late, and Peter hopes this little camping trip will do them some good. Marcia loathes the outdoors, however, and thinks they'd be better off at a luxury hotel. Fight, squabble, quibble, bitch- Marcia and Peter are unpleasant people who clearly loathe each other, and it seems doubtful even to my always-optimistic eyes that a mere weekend will be enough to fix whatever's causing their problems. I mean, what's the first thing Peter does when he unwraps his new shotgun slingshot water pistol rifle?

Yeah, I think it'll take more than some s'mores to fix that marriage.

They head off on holiday regardless, and before long they demonstrate a casual disregard for everything but themselves as they abuse the environment in countless ways- they litter, Peter runs over a kangaroo when not paying attention to the road, Marcia suffocates ants in a cloud of insecticide when they're attracted to the couple's garbage, Peter chops down a tree for no reason other than "why not?", he shoots his gun for the fun of shooting his gun, and Marcia takes (and eventually smashes) an eagle's egg.

After reading that litany of offenses, you might think that Peter and Marcia are engaging in completely outrageous behavior, but really they're not; their actions are so casual, like the tossing of a lit cigarette out a car window, that it's behavior we've seen in real life countless times- perhaps even engaged in ourselves. However, man does not rule over Moonda Beach- the animals do, and eventually Peter and Marcia pay for their recklessness.

Again, Long Weekend surprises as it doesn't become your typical over-the-top animal revenge flick. Sure, the animals do take revenge, but the film takes a long time getting to that point, and we're treated to a spooky, almost supernatural story in the meantime.

To maximize its low budget to the greatest effect, Long Weekend was shot in Panavision, the same aspect ratio famously utilized by John Carpenter in Halloween. Here, director Colin Eggleston uses the technique to give the film gorgeous shot after gorgeous shot, from the beach and surf to the wildlife to the scariest damn woods I've seen since The Blair Witch Project. It was a real pleasure to watch a movie that simply looked nice for a change.

I mentioned The Blair Witch Project, and there were definitely times I found myself wondering if Long Weekend had any influence on the Blair Witch creators. For example, on their way to Moonda Beach (and later, their way out), Peter and Marcia become lost- they pass the same tree again and again despite the fact that they've been traveling a linear path. Moonda Beach is an eerie place, and as I said throughout the film it seems as though there might be something supernatural about it- it's foreboding, isolated, and according to the locals at the gas station where Peter and Marcia make a pit stop, it doesn't even exist. Eggleston effectively uses sound and light to create an atmosphere full of dread, and I just ate it right up. There are unidentifiable howls and cries in the night, there's a dead sea cow (Peter shoots it, mistaking it for a shark) that keeps reappearing in various places, and a fantasically creepy sequence when Peter, searching for a van he saw parked on the beach earlier, stumbles across an abandoned campsite, complete with an child's tea party that's overgrown with brush.

Long Weekend is undoubtedly more of a character study with horrific elements more than it is a straight-up horror film or a true animals run amok flick. Over the course of the film, we slowly come to realize the basis for Peter and Marcia's marital strife, and to be honest, they're not very likable people- but that doesn't make them uninteresting to watch. The film centers on two people in little more than one location, and the fact that such a conceit is tolerable at all owes a great debt to the deft direction, the beautiful cinematography, and the actors themselves.

If you're the type of viewer who watches, say, Let's Scare Jessica to Death or fellow Aussie export Picnic at Hanging Rock and you find yourself saying "Is something going to happen already?", then please- steer clear of Long Weekend. This film is not jump cuts and blood sprays- this film is mood, dread, atmosphere, and the "payoff", such as it is, doesn't come until the very end. To some folks, that's called "boring" me, however, that's called "I don't even care that there's no outrageous amok-ening because this movie was awesomely spooky". I'll get back to the outrageousness tomorrow, when toxic waste or something makes animals all big or something.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip, Stacie. Looks good. I hope the payoff is a bunch of koalas ripping their faces off while platypi inject them with poison from their heel spurs. : )

Oh, and the gun in the picture isn't a shotgun; it's a rifle. Just to be a nerd.

Stacie Ponder said...

Shotgun...rifle...duly noted and corrected, sir- thanks! Me dummy.

The payoff doesn't include your scenario, I'm afraid- again, even the climax is unexpected. I really really liked this movie.

There ARE shots of koalas, though, for that "Awww!" factor.

Amanda By Night said...

While I was reading this, I was likening the film to Open Water, so I thought it was funny (but not funny ha ha) that you related it to the other guerilla blockbuster, BWP.

This looks good, and being as how my Mom was an Aussie, how could I not give this on a shot?

Thanks for the review. Splendid, splendid, splendid... But then again, I wouldn't expect anything less!

Stacie Ponder said...

You know, you're right. Tonally, in some respects and passages, it bears a resemblance to BWP. Thematically, though, it's very much like Open Water- but it's a far better film.

Yes, seek it out! I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great movie. And I truly loved OPEN WATER. So I'll check all the video stores I know to find it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, wow, I never thought I'd hear anything about this film ever again! For years, I couldn't even remember the name. It played on my local subscription television system (ONTV it was called -- a precursor to cable, which didn't arrive in Chicago until the late 80s if you can believe that), and I watched it without really knowing what it was or what to expect.

What a gorgeous, creepy pleasant surprise! I don't remember exactly how the ending worked, but as a little kid I was really into horror movies with downbeat endings, and this was close enough to fit that bill.

I love this blog.