Thursday, September 3, 2009

Long Weekend (1978)

Earlier this year I watched the disappointing Nature’s Grave, which I found out was actually a remake of the 1978 Australian film Long Weekend. As I dug a little deeper I discovered that many people held Long Weekend in high regard and it had been called one of the greatest nature-run-amuck films ever made. So after watching the unremarkable remake, which was supposedly shot-for-shot of the original, I felt it was only fair to go back to the source and watch Long Weekend.

Long Weekend isn’t your standard nature’s revenge flick – it is far more subtle, and is more of a psychological struggle between a bickering city couple and the unfamiliar outdoors they’ve chosen as a vacation spot. Some could argue that there is a supernatural element to the proceedings, but everything that happens also has a perfectly logical, natural explanation as well…it just seems supernatural because the city slickers aren’t familiar with nature and definitely don’t respect it.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me give a brief synopsis of Long Weekend:

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a married couple who are obviously having some issues. To hopefully patch up their marriage they head out to a deserted beach for a long weekend. Peter brings his dog, Cricket, and his trusty rifle to shoot at random stuff as he drinks beer, leaving a trail of litter in his wake. Marcia does nothing but complain that they are far away from her friends and how she would much rather spend a nice weekend at a luxury hotel, all the while burning a hole in the ozone layer as she constantly hoses down the campsite with bug spray. The couple continues to have a flippant disregard for the environment – Marcia flicks cigarette butts everywhere, Peter throws beer bottles into the brush and kills innocent animals (he runs over a kangaroo, kills a mama duck with an errant bullet and shoots a sea cow repeatedly). Soon, the laws of nature come into play and Peter and Marcia face the harsh justice of the jungle.

Long Weekend is a gorgeous film, with wide panning shots of the crystal-clear surf and white sand beach. The pristine environment makes the destruction Peter and Marcia cause that much more ugly and harsh. It’s a very sharp contrast between the food wrappers, cigarette butts, bottles of beer and the once pure coastline. Yet, in the finale when Peter stumbles upon another abandoned campsite we see how humans may come and go but Mother Nature seems to bounce back from any blight humans mar her with. Director Colin Eggleston definitely crafted a socially conscious and stunning film that was way ahead of its time.

As for the story, writer Everett De Roche really involves the audience in his cautionary tale. As mentioned earlier, it has a bit of a supernatural feel to it, but you could also look at it from a very rational point of view as well. It’s all in how you perceive the film, and I like how De Roche left it ambiguous for the audience. I also like how the characters were so unlikable, yet you were still interested to see what would happen to them and even a bit concerned for their safety (even though they brought their misfortune on themselves). All their trouble basically stemmed from poor decisions they made and their unfamiliarity with the outdoors. I mean, who really steals an eagle egg, smashes it and doesn’t expect the bird to come after them or approaches a possum and doesn’t expect to get bitten? Though the two leads make poor decisions, there is a part of you wishing they get out alive and perhaps learn a lesson not to mess with nature. Kudos to De Roche for making us care about such unlikable characters.

Both Briony Behets and John Hargreaves must also be commended for their strong performances in Long Weekend. They are basically the only two characters in the film, plus they are rotten individuals (she is always nagging while he is just an asshole, plus they have their own nasty secrets that come out as the film progresses), and yet we cannot take our eyes away from them. I think the biggest problem with the remake, Nature’s Grave, was the acting. In the remake the two leads didn’t have the fiery chemistry that Behets and Hargreaves possess, nor did they play it as realistically. Hargreaves and Behets really sell the characters and really involve us in the story, making us want to see and learn more about their vile characters.

There is also a lot to discover within the story itself, as the secrets of the secluded beach reveal themselves. The film is slow-paced, but that doesn’t make it bad by any means! Instead, it spends time building the tension and is punctuated by several shocking scenes (Peter’s crossbow accidentally going off and almost hitting Marcia, an aerial attack by an eagle, a menacing shape in the water while Peter is out swimming, Peter’s exploration of an overgrown campsite, and so on). The atmosphere of slowly-building dread is nicely accompanied by a beautiful score that helps accentuate the eeriness and tension of the film.

If you happen to come across Nature’s Grave, I recommend skipping it and renting the far superior original, Long Weekend. Though this is not your typical “animals-run-amuck” revenge film, it is still a breathtaking and tension-filled film that deserves to be seen by those that like their slowly-creeping horror!

Order it on Amazon!

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