Friday, 2 October 2009

Long Weekend (1978)

Oh, the huge manatee.

Marcia (Briony Behets) and Peter (John Hargreaves) are a bickering married couple who take a long weekend camping trip as a last ditch effort to save their crumbling marriage. On the way to the campsite they are so busy bitching and arguing that they get lost and I mean really lost (there's a Tasmanian devil wandering around even though they're supposed to be in New South Wales). The next morning Marcia wakes up to find that they've made it to the campsite and Peter is busy chopping down a tree. When she asks him why he replies "why not?" Why not, indeed.

They are definitely obnoxious and unlikable, but not in an annoying way. They aren't typical horror movie assholes, their dialog is realistically written and well acted. I especially liked the way that the history of their relationship is dished out in bite-sized pieces. Early in the film you get hints of a traumatic experience in Marcia's past, but it's not until much later that the truth comes spilling out, something that may or may not have something to do with their current situation.

I also liked that they aren't completely villainous in their disrespect for nature. Marcia loathes the outdoors and surrounds herself with the amenities of civilisation. Peter treats it like his own personal playground, arrogantly stomping through and destroying anything in his way. They could have easily made this too broad and cartoonish, but mostly they are just so absorbed in their relationship problems that they take their superiority over nature for granted. They litter, they flick their cigarettes out the window, they spray everything with insecticide. Normal stuff.

As tensions fray their crimes against nature become a bit more felonious. Peter orphans some ducklings when he starts firing his shotgun aimlessly into the bush and in a fit of frustration Marcia smashes an eagle egg against a tree. Worst of all, Peter shoots at a menacing dark shape in the water only for it to turn out to be a harmless dugong. Subsequently a bunch of spooky shit starts happening. The nights become filled with strange noises, possibly the dugong's orphaned offspring, each morning the dugong's bullet-riddled corpse appears to be closer and closer to the camp and a frozen chicken goes moldy within in a few hours. Okay, maybe that last one isn't so scary.

Most of the time it's just subtle things like that, although Peter also gets attacked by an eagle and a possum. Fucking possums. The couple aren't the only victims of nature's sudden uprising either (some campers further up the beach suffer a mysterious, off-screen death) but they are definitely the focus of the film. The final twenty minutes are virtually dialog free, just the spooky sounds of nature and Michael Carlos terrific suspenseful score. The film ends with a deliciously ironic death that bring things full circle.

There were so many of these nature-fights-back films in the 70s, the unloved bastard children of 70s environmentalism and Hitchcock's The Birds, that I really wasn't expecting much from Long Weekend, but it really surprised me. It's sharply written by Everett De Roche (Road Games, Patrick, Razorback, pretty much every horror film made in Australia at the time) and directed by Colin Eggleston. Thanks to the great, moody cinematography, the film locations are alternately picturesque and threatening. I don't have a lot to say about this one, except that it's fuckin' good.

No comments: