Monday, 27 October 2014

Halloween 31 For 31: Long Weekend (1978)

Dir. Colin Eggleston

A couple Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) go to a beach to spend the time together. Their relationship is fraught, a tension due to a recent event causing divide between them. Tearing at each other emotionally, there is a far greater concern the longer they spend the time at the beach. Something is amiss with the wildlife. Something is wrong about the environment. The animals are vicious and hostile baring Peter's own dog Cricket. Is nature itself at war with the pair, trampling and destroying anything in their hostilities to each other, ignorance and open destructiveness, closing in on them? We can thank filmmaker Mark Hartley for what he did for his country's genre cinema; with Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008), he brought attention to Australia's lineage of genre films and created a new retrospective genre name within the last ten years called "Ozploitation", some of the films already known internationally but many brought to light or reappreciated. Long Weekend was one of the films mentioned, with an extensive segment, in the documentary, and amongst strong films this was one that was placed as one of the true pieces of art amongst a good bunch. It fits into a kind of cinema I love the most, difficult to create a sub-genre name for because it tends to flirt with countless tropes and fluxuates between genres depending on the film. Movies, either blatant or subtle, where perception and what is real is suspect, the environment and situation always changing when the protagonist(s) thinks they have cleared the fog away from the route ahead. So I've gotten into David Lynch. So Takashi Miike's Audition (1999) hit me perfectly as one of his first films I saw, and Shinya Tsukamoto beyond Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) was enriching. So I could jump from Bela Tarr's Hungarian art films to a genre film like The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1976). If it was possible to tie it all together as a genre, it would be my favourite.

As Long Weekend plays out, it is trying to balance between the idea that nature is striking out against the couple and that it's all a coincidence, a result of their paranoia and heightened emotions. It becomes obvious as a viewer it's the former taking place, becoming far too fantastical at points in its menacing dread to be a psychological drama, but the film still retains a question of what exactly is nature's revenge and what is merely a trick on their minds. Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) comes to mind, as the ecological horror is completely connected to the frayed relationship of the couple, beautiful performed by Hargreaves and Behets. The film is entirely balanced on their shoulders as well as on the film making behind it, and it's a complicated, rich relationship between the characters that makes it more compelling. While not necessarily part of my wide genre of perception distorting films, some of the best have been about human emotions, the land around them, even if independent to their behaviour, keeping up to their discordant emotional states. Of course, this is the perfect moment in this review to praise the director Colin Eggleston and everyone making the film behind the camera, be it camera operators to animal wrangles. From a foreign perspective, yet to set foot in Australia, it's still obvious how, along with the urban communities, the wildlife is explicably close to it, making the clash of suburbanites here, with their conflict straight from a theatrical drama, with nature more suitable to be depicted there. Stunning yet claustrophobic natural woodland and a beach which is separate from the rest of mankind. The trees may literally be moving around as the couple drive in circles at points and, whether it's fully an attack of Mother Nature on human beings or not, the isolation especially as the more surreal and blatant incidences take place stands out more. There's as much to say this is not even a real environment or separated from reality, as the only other people we see don't even really know of the beach the couple are going to or say it's been abandoned, abandoned to the trees and animals as their own. An exact plot vanishes, like many of my psycho dramatic films become, more of series of connecting events, dreamlike, which are structured on the emotions and the final outburst of them then an exact conflict by way of an A-B-C plotting.

It looks beautiful as a film, but creeps under the skin with its quiet, planned out tone. It's a film that makes possums scary, a silly sentence on paper, but to make the apparently "cute" and innocent of nature capable of violence, like Hitckcock's birds, is a virtue of the film. Mentioning directors, Werner Herzog's obsession with nature being destructive and dangerous would make this one of his favourite films, but kidding aside, with a film like this or Ted Kotcheff's Wake In Fright (1971), you see how the landmass called Australia, where the middle is not populated at all, and it's wilderness is completely removed from the cuddly view of nature most have. Even fairytales obsess over how nature can be dangerous as well as magical. The use of an eco-horror tone for what is more about the crippling anxiety of its two characters is apt, the land's revenge for truly deplorable acts of vandalism reflecting the base and raw emotions that get revelled in the last quarter between the couple. Sufferance to say, it gets nasty how the film ends, one which didn't go down as a box office hit when it was first released in cinemas.

Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
This is a tricky one, because I would place a film with the same tone like The Birds in the Medium rank above it. Probably why this gets a Low is that it is creepy and unnerving, not delirious or evoking startling questions about what you've just witnessed. It's a character drama cum nature horror film first, psychodrama making up pace behind. But that doesn't stop it getting on the list. It does as well help define where the bridge between getting on the list or not is set - trying to be weird or wacky purposely is empty and becomes normal, while a character drama which takes a psychological or metaphorical spin is capable of pulsating with a greater sense of unreality even if grounded in tone. Emotional tenor is capable of creating a heightened mood, not surface wackiness.

A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
I regret not having as diverse a selection of films internationally, especially compared to last year on my old blog, for this year in hindsight, but after viewing Long Weekend again, this doesn't matter when the film is this good. As many more films from around the world will be covered on this blog, this one marks a great start for Australia. 

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