Long Weekend

Long Weekend (1978)

Long Weekend first published by EyeforFilm

Search a beach long and hard enough and eventually, amidst those countless grains of sand, you are bound to unearth a lost treasure.

Long Weekend marked the beginning of a continuous run of assured Australian horror films, penned by Everett De Roche, including Patrick (1978), Roadgames (1981) and Razorback (1984). Where those other movies would worm their way into the public consciousness, the frankly superior Long Weekend was destined, like its two main characters, to disappear with little trace. So Optimum Home Entertainment’s re-release offers viewers an opportunity to catch up with a lost classic and to see for themselves what a creepy one-off it is, defying all categorisation and eluding easy interpretation, despite a tiny cast and apparent naturalism.

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a modern Sydney couple whose sophisticated lifestyle is ruled by dinner parties, money making and infidelity. With their marriage in near terminal decline, Peter drags his reluctant wife on a camping trip to an isolated northern beach for the long weekend, in the hope that going back to basics will somehow bring them back together. Driving through the dark and the rain, the bickering couple is soon completely lost.

The following dawn reveals a secluded paradise, but if Peter is envisaging a surf-‘n’-sex idyll straight out of The Blue Lagoon, what he gets is a nightmare much closer to The Birds, or Open Water. For this savage new landscape seems to resonate with the couple’s bitterest secrets, as nature imposes her own strange and implacable reality upon the trespassing city slickers.

Australian New Wave visible washing in from behind

Colin Eggleston takes the premise of nature’s revenge to its most mysterious and overdetermined limits. On the one hand, it seems obvious that the many animal attacks in the film serve as punishments for the human characters’ repeated acts of hubristic transgression against nature, be it Peter’s running over of a kangaroo, chopping down of a tree, shooting a dugong, harassing a possum, or Marcia’s angry destruction of an eagle’s egg. On the other hand, the bushland, in all its merciless inescapability, appears to be a metaphor for the childless marriage in which the two principals have become trapped. At the same time, it seems that Peter and Marcia are not nature’s only victims, and casual background references to nuclear testing and oil exploration hint at a broader ecological agenda. Amidst this superabundance of interpretative frames, there are also some moments that are genuinely beyond any kind of rationalisation, lending Long Weekend an air of eerie irresolution.

Under Eggleston’s moody direction, even the most minute of sounds is over-amplified to explosive volume and the voyeuristic camerawork tends to be from the ground up, as though from the point-of-view of lurking critters – so that the wilderness locations, for all their natural beauty, seem to brim with the tension of unbearable foreboding. Neither Hargreaves, nor Behets, shrink from the narcissistic unpleasantness of their characters, in what are bravely unflattering performances. Best of all is the ending, which, though shockingly abrupt, is, within the film’s elaborate nexus of motifs, totally, perfectly right – only to be topped by a final, fern-laden image (in ring composition with an image from the film’s opening urban scenes) that is haunting enough to do Andrei Tarkovsky proud.

Made in a country where outback dangers are never more than a short drive away, Long Weekend illustrates the fragile veneer of civilisation, constantly under threat from both nature and the feral heart of humanity. Surrender to this film’s insinuating spell and see if it makes you go wild.

© Anton Bitel