Long Weekend (1978)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2015-04-06 07:41

Long Weekend (1978)
Studio: Synapse Films
Release date: April 14th, 2015

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

Oikophobia is defined as “the fear of home and home surroundings,” and is considered by some to be the antithesis of xenophobia. It can also describe a large chunk of Australia’s horror film output for the past forty years, as the prevailing theme has been “stay away from Australia.” Imagine if 90% of America’s horror movies were just endless riffs on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre—sometimes, that’s what Ozploitation feels like: just a ceaseless parade of Outback mayhem perpetrated by an unforgiving landscape engineered specifically to kill everything that wanders into its path. If the maniacs don’t get you, then nature will take its course as it does in Long Weekend, a golden era Ozploitation nightmare that even makes the country’s beaches seem like a hellhole.

Penned by Aussie B-movie stalwart Everett De Roche, the film charts the hellish vacation of Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets), a married couple enduring a rough patch in their relationship. Seeking the restorative power of nature, the two leave the confines of suburbia to camp in the coastal wilderness. Marcia would prefer a more comfortable trip to a resort, but Peter pushes on even after it appears they’ve gotten lost along the way. Their eventual arrival brings little relief: not only does their marital turmoil follow them, but it also seems like nature itself has it out for them.

Certainly, something awful is bound to happen to them. From its opening frame, Long Weekend is filled with a palpable, fatalistic dread. Even the early suburban sequences are haunted by lingering, voyeuristic shots that frame Peter and Marcia as some type of prey. Director Colin Eggleston reveals his hand early with shots of wildlife to foreshadow the tale’s eventual villain—if, indeed, nature can be considered a villain in light of Peter and Marcia’s transgressions, which slowly pile up during the course of their ill-fated trip.

Before Long Weekend explicitly reveals its themes, however, it’s suitably unsettling because its path is uncertain. The only thing for sure is that it’s headed south. Exactly how it’s going to get there is less obvious: will these two tear each other apart, or will they fall prey to the shady band of roughnecks Peter encounters on the way in? What’s that eerie, childlike wailing in the distance, haunting the couple’s conversations and particularly weighing on Marcia’s conscience? Regardless, it’s the platonic ideal of backwoods horror: suspenseful, moody, atmospheric, and completely grim.

At no point does Eggleson paint a flattering portrait of his native land. Like so many of his contemporaries, his widescreen frame transforms the Outback into a hellscape that looms over and engulfs characters. As Peter and Marcia make their approach to the beach, the surroundings become increasingly insular and practically swallow them. Once they arrive, Long Weekend is weirdly suffocating in its isolation, with a desolate stretch of beach and a dense brush thicket combining to envelop the couple. There’s “middle of nowhere” and then there’s this place, which might as well be the fucking moon.

Amidst a slow burning, creeping terror, the film’s purpose comes into focus once the wilderness begins to stalk Peter and Marcia. It’s Day of the Animals reimagined with a spooky, Peter Weir style vibe that makes the premise more plausible and less schlocky. Unlike many other 70s eco-terrors, Long Weekend is genuinely eerie—it’s not so much a preachy cautionary tale so much as it’s a reminder that mankind is no match for untamed nature. In the end, we’re no different than the kangaroo Peter splatters all over the road before reaching the beach: eventually, we’re all going to be discarded and disregarded by callous hands of fate with little concern for preserving dignity.

Nature’s revolt here takes the tenor of cosmic irony as we learn more about its victims. Hargreaves and Berets take thinly-sketched characters and spin them into a compelling, authentic couple. Both seem to be walking on eggshells around each other, and their relationship’s volatility adds a layer of tension. Despite their constant bickering, their love for each other is often just apparent enough to give hope that they might emerge from this nightmare alive. However, as they spend more time with each other, their retreat becomes a pressure cooker that boils their strife to the surface and forces them to confront Marcia’s abortion, here treated as an abominable sin met with Old Testament style justice. Suddenly, you realize that the pathway to the beach resembles a birth canal that yields to Mother Nature’s womb, which proceeds to take an eye for an eye.

It makes for a wry turn of events, to be sure. On the surface, Long Weekend appears to be a weird, low key nature-run-amok flick; digging beneath the familiarity uncovers a film driven by absolute nihilism. Nature slut shames Marcia just as it condemns Peter for being an out-of-his-league dope who believes expensive camping equipment will turn him into a rugged outdoorsman. It’s not a coincidence that his phallic obsession with a crossbow plays a crucial role in the couple's downfall. Ultimately, nobody has a bigger dick than Mother Nature, who has no time for your shit—especially in Australia.

The disc:

While it debuted in theaters at the height of the Ozploitation movement, Long Weekend was met with general disinterest from audiences and critics alike. The next few decades were more kind, however, as the cult crowd rescued its reputation. Synapse Films played a huge role with a stellar DVD release about a decade ago, and that release has been ported over to Blu-ray with an upgrade high-definition presentation. The transfer preserves the film’s stark, evocative cinematography with strong details and an intact grain structure. Both the original 2.0 mono and the 5.1 remix have been upgraded to lossless DTS-HD MA tracks as well.

All of the extras have made the leap to Blu-ray as well: an audio commentary with producer Richard Brennan and cinematographer headlines, while an audio interview with Hargreaves (set to a stills gallery full of behind-the-scenes and promotional photos) and the film’s trailer fill out the supplements.

Hopefully, Long Weekend will continue to benefit from such a fine release: this is a great diamond in the Oxploitation rough, which is to say it’s an appropriately unpolished and jagged instrument of blunt force and savagery. Its tagline proclaims that nature has found its characters guilty--what it doesn't tell you is that it also subjects them to an impromptu court martial lorded over by crazed eagles, mad dogs, and a preternatural seacow.
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