Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is It Monday Yet?

In case my eagerness to insert Frogs or Empire of the Ants into any unrelated conversation has gotten past you, I really, really really, really really really, and did I mention really? love the strange pocket of genre cinema known as Nature Strikes Back. Whether we’re dealing with two-story high chickens or Leslie Nielson wrestling a bear bare-chested, there’s just something about animals banding together to take us silly opposable thumb wielders down that never fails to make me smile.

Colin Eggleston’s Long Weekend (with a script from Patrick scribe Everett de Roche) is best described as the arthouse interpretation of what is otherwise considered a fairly silly (yet incredibly enjoyable) batch of films. Think of it as Day of the Animals That Are Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Quick Plot: Marcia and Peter are an incredibly unhappy married couple with some disposable income and a lot of harmful secrets. To maybe mend some of their troubles, they begrudgingly embark upon a small road trip to what they expect to be a secluded beach located deep into the forests of Australia. Though Marcia would rather be basking in the comfort of a five-star hotel, Peter insists on lugging his expensive camping gear and chubby dog Cricket for one of those manly back-to-nature vacations that only rich people can actually take.

The ride there is not without its difficulty. Peter receives some strangely contradictory information at a local gas station that seems to be urging him away from his destination, although it’s the brutal running-over-of-a-kangaroo that sets an eerie tone. As news reports drop hints about bird attacks and Eggleston’s camera glares ominously at wayward wombats (band name trademark pending), we get the increasing sensation that nature isn’t crazy about these bickering humans.

Neither are we. Ever so slowly, Marcia and Peter reveal some of the reasons for their coldness towards each other, including infidelity and unwanted abortion. Throughout it all, Marcia seems to share our sentiment that something in this natural paradise wants them out. A sea cow (yes, it’s apparently a thing) washes up onshore. Peter gets Fabio’d by a giant seagull. 

Harpoons shoot on their own. A grime coated Barbie doll with Marcia’s haircut ominously shows up naked as Marcia sunbathes a few feet away. 

Something is off, and perhaps, the film surmises, deservedly so, as we witness Peter litter and nonchalantly chop down a tree while Marcia sprays pesticide at innocent ants. Their disregard for the outdoors is noted.

Long Weekend is a supremely strange film, one that sort of uses the guise of Nature Strikes Back to serve up a far more haunting story about a toxic relationship. Although we do get hints that animals are misbehaving elsewhere in the country, the two-character thrust of the film could almost lead you to believe all these seemingly ‘unnatural’ natural acts are actually part of our leads’ unraveling psyches. Certainly the fate of one character seems, albeit unclearly, to be more an act of human than god or goose. 

Some might find it pretentious, especially since the film is often categorized alongside much lighter fare like Food of the Gods. This is a horror movie in the way that Picnic At Hanging Rock is a horror movie: something supernatural is at work, but that’s ultimately just an excuse. The horror exists between a man and woman who seem to derive more pleasure in hurting their partner than loving them, and yet, as Peter points out so pointedly to Marcia, as clear as it is that the love is gone, the need for one another will probably never die. These people have ruined each other, and therefore, who else can take them?

Long Weekend isn’t shy about its metaphors (re: broken egg), but Eggleston makes them work by creating such a haunting and unusual mood through his depiction of nature. From both an audio and visual point of view, Long Weekend is incredibly atmospheric. Once you plop the saga of Peter and Marcia inside such a landscape, the results are bound to be intense.

High Points
Enough can’t be said about the look of the film, lovingly captured by director of photography Vincent Monton. In an age of forced perspective effects or artful editing around ever putting an animal in the same frame as a human, Monton finds ways to use close shots of creatures to hauntingly brilliant effect

John Hargreaves and Briony Behets have an uphill battle in playing two extremely unlikable characters, and credit must go to both for making such strong commitments 

Without spoiling, let me say that I adored everything about the ending of this film

Low Points
Well, the thing is that the very nature of Long Weekend feels like an uncomfortably long weekend where you ended up stuck tagging along as a third wheel to the most miserably married couple in Australia. So this isn’t exactly a fun romp, which can, you know, be a bit of a drag

Lessons Learned
A domesticated pet is, to the natural animals of the wildness, something of an uncle tom

Whatever you do, do not feed the possums

It’s not smart to leave your dog home alone unsupervised for three days, but when all is said and done, it might be preferable to spending a dreadful weekend in your company

Remade in 2008, Long Weekend is something truly unusual and well worth a quiet night of watching. The Synapse released DVD includes a fascinating commentary track and photo still gallery with an audio interview of the late Hargreaves (which comes with a spoiler warning, something I find endearingly adorable). White it won’t give you that fun beer & friends party night feeling like Frogs, Long Weekend is an eerie descent into marital hell that just so happens to be spoken in the language of animals amuck. Give it a try.

And watch your back. A koala might be doing the same.


  1. This is one of my absolute favourites.

    There's a snippet of an interview with Everett De Roche (who seemed to be writing most Australian genre movies at the time) about Long Weekend here, where he says some interesting things, including mentioning the original ending (unfilmed because animals are difficult to direct):

    There was actually a remake in 2008, again written by De Roche; I haven't seen it, but apparently it follows the original so closely as to be pointless. It was apparently retitled Nature's Grave in the US.

  2. I'd heard Nature's Grave was a really close remake, which is why I wanted to wait a while before watching it. I guess if they can mount revivals of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Broadway every 5 years, it's forgivable to remake Long Weekend three decades later.

    Thanks for the link! That's a pretty fascinating discussion from DeRoche. I found it pretty immediate to sympathize with the animals over the couple, but maybe that's just the aging of the film or the fact that THEY RUN OVER A BABY KANGAROO FOR GOSH SAKES!

  3. I stumbled blindly into watching Long Weekend years ago after watching Wake In Fright and hankering for more bleak Australian offerings.
    It's not a 'fun' movie but it's the sort of horror I prefer over wacky nonsense like American Horror Story.

  4. Ooooh I still haven't seen Wake In Fright. It just got a fairly publicized re-release. I first learned about it a few years back on an episode of Outside the Cinema.

    I didn't watch last season's AHS, but I started this year and find it enjoyable enough. I compare it to the mixed bulk candy canister at movie theaters, which I always assumed was made up of whatever candy was swept up from the floor. It's tasty and enjoyable but not really good for you or pure in any way. But I still eat it.