Friday, July 15, 2022

‘Long Weekend’: The Unearthly Nature of an Ozploitation Classic [Horrors Elsewhere]

Despite its reputation for deadly animals, Australia has few films about fatal fauna. The most obviously dangerous creatures in the Land Down Under — salties, razorbacks, great whites — have all been villainized on screen; some of them multiple times. However, Everett De Roche looked at Australia’s more unsuspecting creatures as he wrote an “environmental horror” script in the ‘70s, the most potent time for such stories. Instead of pitting mankind against only one beast, though, the Patrick screenwriter unleashed a whole army of them. 

In the 1978 film Long Weekend, Mother Nature uses everything at her disposal to protect her domain and repel a pair of interlopers. The destination in store is a scenic beach somewhere in the north. The remote area, enhanced by blue waters, white sands and clear skies, is a far cry from the bustling urban sprawl shown at the story’s start. Unspoiled, thriving greenery surrounds this tucked-away beach, whereas the only discernible green in the main characters’ lives is a sad collection of houseplants left to fend for themselves inside a bathtub. De Roche’s cautionary tale, directed by Colin Eggleston, eventually trades the stony suburbs for parts unknown.

Before the human tension is made evidently clear to the audience, Long Weekend foreshadows the overt dangers ahead. A television report in the background spotlights a bizarre bird attack in the city. What could be mistaken for an isolated incident is really a portent. Something big is in the wind as the walls between developed and natural worlds diminish in favor of capitalism and expansion. Habitats free from man’s touch are becoming increasingly rare, and this film imagines the lengths the planet will go to to protect them. Nevertheless, Marcia (Briony Behets) pays no mind to the bird incident; she is too busy dreading a vacation with her husband Peter (John Hargreaves). 

long weekend

This last-ditch effort to make things right in a troubled marriage is already off to a bad start when Peter gets lost in the middle of nowhere. He struggles to find this cut-off getaway, a place even the locals have never heard of. Wrapped inside a safety-orange colored Nissan Patrol, the husband, wife and their dog travel deeper and deeper into the bush, searching for the almost legendary Moonda Beach. An uncomfortable symphony of dirt crunching beneath tires, the groaning of gears and other car parts, and disembodied animal growls take over for Michael Carlos’ foreboding score. Thunder, rain, and utter darkness do little to deter Peter as he continues to drive aimlessly toward his and Marcia’s own private nightmare.

After what felt like a slow descent into hell, Peter and Marcia somehow come out the other side. Their reward, a picturesque beach all to themselves, is wasted on them as they plunge into arguments about the past. Add on Peter’s disregard for the land and animals — he litters, he hacks away at a tree, and he shoots a number of animals, including a dugong — and this respite is anything but relaxing. Making the situation eerie is the absence of other people; there are no signs of previous human life other than an empty van by the water, and an abandoned campsite nearby.

Long Weekend fits into the subgenre of “natural horror,” but so much of the film’s events are not natural. In many ways, this is a supernatural tale about mankind’s tenuous relationship with nature. Peter’s difficulty finding the beach, namely his driving around in circles, suggests an unexplored mythology about the geographical location. Does the physical loop only end if the trespassers are deemed worthy and granted access? More questions then come up once Peter and Marcia reach their final destination. The region gradually loses its beauty and luster as the couple’s bickering worsens; the surroundings reflect their endless discord. For this reason and others, the area acts like a sort of in-between spot for those few people who manage to find it or are allowed inside. Behavior not only shapes the environment, it also determines if visitors can leave in one piece.

Long weekend 2008

The symbolism of Long Weekend is not subtle; many of the metaphors are obvious to the point of absurdity. Of all the film’s weird set pieces, the dugong is the creepiest. The dead sea mammal insidiously moving inward until she reaches her killer typifies how these creatures have been widely hunted throughout history, and how their mass deaths haunt Australia. Marcia hearing what sounds like a baby crying in the distance, as well as her smashing an eagle’s egg in a fate-determining scene, embody her feelings over a recent abortion. Above all is the surprisingly grim and karmic conclusion that calls back to Peter running over a kangaroo. Had things turned out differently, though, De Roche’s alternate ending — Peter squanders the second chance the animals give him, and he is punished for it — would have only made this film even stranger.

Of all the remakes to come out of 2000s horror, Long Weekend (Nature’s Grave in the U.S.) was maybe the most unexpected. Urban Legend director Jamie Blanks delivered an almost shot-for-shot remake in ‘08, although De Roche convinced him to make a few changes. The original film’s themes and events have no expiration date on them, so in spite of the redo’s low-risk approach, the content never feels antiquated. The core ecological message is still as relevant as ever, the bigger budget allows for more special effects, and James Caviezel and Claudia Karvan‘s performances suit the brassier update.

The classic Long Weekend is an early and crucial example of Australian Gothic Horror, a subgenre where terror traditionally originates in the great outdoors rather than inside the home. And like so many of its contemporaries, the film emphasizes the perils of distant yet domestic travel, and the deceptive grandeur of national landscapes. Camera and production techniques once deemed cutting edge now ensure a spellbinding experience for today and tomorrow. Long Weekend asks the audience to follow its lead, take in the scenery, and, most of all, ponder the consequences of abusing nature.

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

long weekend

The post ‘Long Weekend’: The Unearthly Nature of an Ozploitation Classic [Horrors Elsewhere] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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