On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me…
seven swans a-swimming…
Oh, wait, it seems the swans were swimming in radioactive sludge and they all sprouted second heads and pecked each other to death. Shame, shame. I guess we’ll move forward with our holiday celebration anyhow. How about a movie review?
A review of Long Weekend by Dene Bebbington
Arguably the apotheosis of nature turning on people films is Hitchcock’s The Birds. There’s no shortage of gory films in which people get torn up and eaten by various creatures, whether real or mutant. Snakes, sharks, piranha fish and crocodiles rather than people are often the villains in extensions of the slasher genre. When done well they may involve suspense as well as a succession of kills. A more intelligent and sinister approach was taken in the little known 1978 Australian classic Long Weekend, directed by Colin Eggleston.
Warning, spoilers ahead!
Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a couple going through a bad patch in their marriage and barely on speaking terms. The reason for this isn’t revealed until later, adding to the slow burn of tension. The friction between them is made worse by Peter taking them away (along with their dog, Cricket) for a long weekend to camp at an isolated beach, whereas Marcia wants to stay in a luxurious hotel.
At the beginning of the film there’s a suggestion of something untoward when Marcia is in the house and has the TV on in the background. She takes little notice of a news item about cockatoos attacking people.
Their journey is marked by bickering and a hint at the reason for their estrangement. Peter throws a cigarette from the window, then we’re shown it setting light to foliage at the side of the road. From here on there are many ways in which the couple are thoughtless and ruthless to nature, and blatantly when Peter runs over a kangaroo due to being distracted. Curiously, Peter’s thoughtlessness is sometimes counterpointed by concern. He’s upset at killing the kangaroo, and later berates Marcia for smashing an eagle egg.
Though the story is focused around this couple, they aren’t the sole victims of nature’s fightback. Some way down the beach a camper van has driven into the sea, and the occupants’ camp is empty except for their snarling dog.
The fickle personalities and ambivalent relationship of Peter and Marcia, the moody and primal atmosphere, haunting animal cries and unexplained way a dead dugong moves up the beach all add to the ominous sense that the couple won’t make it home. You suspect that when they try to leave the birds and animals will try to stop them. They’ve violated nature too much and are going to be punished.
Yes, the denouement is not surprising, but is still shocking and effectively done. Away from the comforts of home and the city, with hostile creatures determined to take their revenge, Peter and Marcia learn the literal meaning of the saying “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” They don’t have the advantage of ancestors who were used to surviving in a primitive world.
Long Weekend succeeds as an offbeat horror film, and as a parable of how humanity’s indifference and wilful destruction of the natural world has consequences.
The region 1 version of the DVD is best for special features. It includes an audio commentary with the producer and director of photography, and an interview with John Hargreaves. Yet another film to have succumbed to the pointless remake mania, this original ranks a respectable 80% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer. The 2008 version, alternatively known as Nature’s Grave, failed to make it above 0%.
About the author:
Dene Bebbington works part-time in IT but feels more at home writing horror fiction. He’s had short stories published in various anthologies (Dark Corners, Dark Light III, Behind Closed Doors, and Disrupted Worlds to name a few), three stories as podcasts at The Wicked Library, and is the author of the ebook novellas Zombie Revelations and Stonefall. He lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and a tank of greedy tropical fish.
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