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CampBlood Gay Horror Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Long Weekend Colin Eggleston 1978

Hey, Honey -- Why So Tents?

I gotta admit, I love Australian movies. Be it horror (Dead Alive, Jack Be Nimble), drama (Proof, The Well, Heavenly Creatures), art-film (Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock), or comedy (Muriel’s Wedding, Flirting), the Ozzies seem to have a way of looking at the world that suits me. Hell, even their gay movies are way better than ours are (Head On, The Adventures of Priscilla), and boast far better soundtracks to boot. I feel that Australian films succeed for one main reason: they tend to actually celebrate acting, of all things! Sure, half the time it’s that bizarre stylized acting particular to Australian films that crosses the Marx Brothers with Italian melodrama, but at least it’s consistent and deliberate.

Take, then, Long Weekend, a little (and I mean little) horror film from 1978 from the writer who brought us Road Games, Razorback, Link, and the classic Patrick (Everett De Roche). This story about a troubled couple who goes camping at a remote beach in a feeble attempt to patch up their marriage is so strange, thoughtful, and downright mean that I can’t imagine it ever being filmed on American soil. Using the wilds of coastal Australia as its playing field and the animals that inhabit those wilds as the supporting cast, De Roche and director Colin Eggleston are able to create a domestic drama that, outside of the confines of domesticity, becomes amplified by the incredible forces of nature. The pitch may has well have been "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets Deliverance."

At the start we watch a spider crawl up the side of a tree for about 5 minutes. Many viewers start groaning in agony and breaking out their porn to keep them company during the quiet stretches. In a quick cut, we are in the city and a cute young man in a suit (John Hargreaves) is walking to his convertible with an enormous package. He is also carrying a big box. We cut to what is presumably his wife (Briony Behets), who is talking on the phone and taking a chicken out of the freezer to thaw. A lot is made of her dropping the chicken and her conversation is cryptic, but we glean that she (Marcia) and Peter, her husband, are going camping for the weekend instead of going to the city with their friends. As the scene plays on, with strange amounts of attention paid to seemingly trivial things, it dawns on this viewer that the filmmakers have something that they’d like to show us, and while I have no idea what it is, color me intrigued.

When Peter returns home and we learn that something bad has happened between the two that has led to them opting for a private getaway, it seems odd considering that Peter has just tested the sight of his new rifle by pointing it at Marcia as she hangs the laundry. Neither of them seems like a particularly bad person, but it soon becomes clear that they need couple’s therapy like it’s nobody’s business.

Which, it turns out, it isn’t. Indeed, as the couple heads out the middle of absolute nowhere (Peter smuggles his dog Cricket along, much to Marcia’s dismay: “Why don’t you and Cricket just go along and I’ll stay home and bark at the birds?!”), they seem to be leaving behind everyone and everything who could know anything about them. Something is shaming them, and their journey into nature is an attempt to regain power over their surroundings and their lives.

The first such moment occurs quite predictably (it’s still quite sad) when Peter hits a kangaroo with the jeep on the way to the shore; after hearing the ominous cries of some sort of distant animal as the couple fills up their tank at the gas station, it becomes apparent that they are not exactly in harmony with nature and that this might not be the relaxing camping trip they were hoping for.

Understatement of the year.

What follows is the deconstruction of a marriage set among genuine horrors of nature. In a brilliant (and sadistic) move, the filmmakers don’t let us in on what the beef is between the two for quite a long time, and actually let them do a little healing before things start to really go wrong, and the decline into chaos as a slow, deliberate slide: the chicken rots unexpectedly; Peter gets bitten by a possum; a giant shape in the ocean terrorizes the couple; a speargun goes off without warning; the remains of another campsite are found. The secret between the couple, their past happy life, and the conflict between their duty to repair things and their desire to destroy one another make for quite a foamy atmosphere, and the tension between the characters and within their hostile environs is keenly palpable for the majority of the film.

Much in the way that this year’s Open Water paralleled the decay of a relationship with a (losing) human struggle agains the enormous power of nature (I like to call it “Scenes from a Marriage with sharks”), Long Weekend is very clever in the ways in which the forces of the wild amplify and reflect the dischord within the couple, often to incredibly intense and frightening effect (if you don’t like spiders, crawleys, weird ocean animals, or rodents, you probably shouldn’t watch). The untamed co-stars aren’t given super-powers or made out to be outwardly evil – they’re just regular animals and get understandably pissed at being shot at, toyed with, robbed, and abused. As Peter and Marcia become increasingly hostile to one another and their surroundings (shooting birds, smashing eggs, starting fires), their surroundings naturally become increasingly hostile toward them.

The thing that I liked most about this film (besides watching Hargreaves run around in short-shorts for 90 minutes) is that it doesn’t over-explain anything. Actually, it doesn’t even explain anything. You’re asked to pay attention to the couple’s dialogue and body language as keenly as you listen for rustling leaves and hoots in the dark; here, minimalism is the key to pulling the curious viewer along, and thanks to fantastic performances from both leads, a script that throws some seriously creepy twists, and a creative sound design, it had me hooked. A harsh, uncompromising allegory about the damage that we humans are capable of doing, both emotionally and physically, Long Weekend is also a humbling reminder that in the long run, we’re all still just animals in the eyes of Mother Nature. This one may be tough to find, but it's certainly worth seeking out for fans of gritty, challenging stories about human relationships.

Rating (out of 5):