Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Long Weekend (1978)

Long Weekend (1978, directed by Colin Eggleston, screenplay by Everett De Roche.)

Review by Goat Scrote

"If you go down to the woods today, you might get a big surprise!
If you go down to the woods today, you won't believe your eyes..."

     According to horror movies, camping is one of the most reckless extreme sports in existence. Campers in the Australian wilderness are particularly plagued by more than their share of psychopaths, man-eaters, spirits, aliens, and monsters. Eco-horror movies carry the simple message "it's not nice to fuck with Mother Nature" and there are quite a few ways to get that across, from fantastic daikaiju to realistic diseases. Much of the genre is quite goofy, especially when it's trying not to be, but this movie delivers some chills.
Last known photograph of the Asshole family.

     "Long Weekend" is an unusually smart and ambitious animal-attack thriller with supernatural overtones. The only human characters are an unpleasant, self-centered couple in a disintegrating marriage. The movie revolves around drama and character just as much as it does around suspense and fright. Viewers are expected to bring their brains and their patience.

"Natural Born Koalas"

     Even spoiled food and inanimate forces like fire take on a menacing aspect on this cursed camping trip. It's almost (but only almost) like cheese-fest "Day of the Animals" (1977) got upgraded with a head transplant from the eerie “Picnic at Hanging Rock" (1975) and a heart transplant from the emotionally brutal "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe" (1966). Screenwriter Everett De Roche also wrote "Patrick" (1978) and "Razorback" (1984, probably the best of the killer-pig sub-sub-subgenre). He also wrote the 2008 remake of “Long Weekend” which I haven’t seen.

There's nothing funny about ants at a picnic.
     I liked “Long Weekend” even though it never quite fulfills its mind-bending ambitions. The good? The movie is well made. The story develops in an interesting way and takes a few mean-spirited turns. It's nicely photographed, intelligently written and directed, the performances are quite good for the most part (the female lead has some laughable moments), and there's well executed animal-attack action involving a range of ordinarily-harmless critters. Animal wranglers June Doggett, Brian Beaverstock, and Glen Turner do a superb job. The score by Michael Carlos is excellent, creepy and unsettling, and the electronic parts remind me of the "Halloween" (1978) soundtrack.
I swam here from Tasmania.
     What makes the movie challenging…? The pacing is deliberately slow. The only sympathetic character is the family dog Cricket. Cricket just got stuck in the middle of the man-versus-woman-versus-nature battle on account of being best friends with one of the combatants. The obnoxious humans are the focus of the story but certainly not the good guys. The antagonist is extremely abstract and the events of the movie are left open to many possible interpretations. The ambiguity is one of the reasons I like it. Explaining too much would ruin the effectiveness of their unseen enemy.
Taste the leaden love-drops flying from my surrogate penis, Nature.
     As the sinister coincidences and weird occurrences accumulate and escalate, it starts to become clear there is something intelligent pulling the strings: Mother Nature made manifest. This invisible character is never personified directly but it certainly has more on its mind than simple murder. The presence seems to observe, respond to, test, judge, and manipulate the humans that have unwisely brought themselves to “Her" attention.
Entrails sold separately.
     Nature demonstrates a real zest for ironic justice. This inhuman, insubstantial enemy could be thought of as an early precursor to the specter of Death from “Final Destination" (2000), which assassinates people by arranging lethal coincidences. There are numerous plot parallels to the “Blair Witch Project” (1999) and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an inspiration. It’s even slightly reminiscent of “The Haunting” turned inside out (the 1963 classic). The Bad Place toying with them is not indoors, but the entire outdoors.
I hate you so much, darling.
     We're introduced to the couple, Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets). She wants to heap a big pile of food in the dogs dish and then disappear on an extended camping trip. You should immediately detect several problems with that plan. Peter convinces Marcia to bring Cricket along instead of leaving the dog to survive by eating her own gluttonous vomit for several days.
Bitch, are you for real?
     On the way to the campsite that night, they run down a kangaroo. Peter chats briefly with the locals and there are hints that the men know something about his destination which they can't or won't say directly. The vacationing couple demonstrates typical horror-movie good sense and kicks a "Keep Out" sign out of the way. Symbols marked on the trees seem to show the way, but soon they are lost in the bush, going in a circle. They will realize in daylight that the layout of the road makes that physically impossible. Spooky!
Yep, I feel really good about this decision.
     They set up camp and we get to know them a little better. Got an empty beer bottle? Chuck it in the ocean and use it for target practice. You see ants? Spray poison on everything. Don't need wood? Screw it, chop the bastard down anyway, it’s fun to break things especially when they're alive. When Marcia asks “Why?”, Peter casually answers “Why not?" (I’m going to enjoy watching bad things happen to these two.)
First degree herbicide.
     Mr. Asshole has got a frickin' speargun. It goes off by itself and nearly impales Mrs. Asshole. He also has a rifle which he drunkenly fires at random things. Then he starts talking shit directly to Mother Nature, calling her out! Man, why’d you have to do that? If he didn’t have Her attention before, he’s got it now for sure. The mosquitos attack first...
A harpoon? I love harpoons!
     We learn that it's been a couple of months since the couple last had sex. While he tries to surf away his sexual frustration, she fingerbangs herself to sleep in the tent. A noise draws them both to the beach. Peter shoots at a shadow in the water and draws blood. They argue repeatedly about what it is he fired at. He thinks it was a shark, she doesn’t.
Quick, throw in a tampon.
     All of the food has spoiled inside the gas-powered refrigerator in the back of their truck. Even the mold is trying to get them! She stole an eagle egg from a nest near the beach and he jokes about making an omelette out of it. He mentions cracking open another beer but the prospect of more litter is just the last goddamned straw for Mama Eagle. Peter is attacked, and Marcia responds by pitching the birds egg against the tree they've been abusing. There is something frighteningly wrong here and they know it: “Eagles don't attack people.”
Nipple cripple!
     They fight about it, and in the middle of their heated argument the true source of conflict slips out: "I didn't have to have an abortion!" She is in an ongoing love affair, got pregnant by her lover, and secretly terminated the baby. Marcia tries to leave but Peter won't let her. She sleeps in the truck, waiting for him to get over his angry macho thing.
I'll get that wascawwy wabbit.
     As if to prove her point, a possum beats up her husband. Peter finally agrees to go home in the morning because, well, he just got his ass kicked by a 10-pound herbivore. That's not just unnatural, it's embarrassing. They find out that the creature Peter shot was a gentle sea-cow (a dugong, an endangered species related to manatees) when it washes up on the beach. Peter’s fantasy of himself as some kind of shark-slaying wilderness badass is further punctured. They drive down the beach and blame each other bitterly for their marital troubles.
Possum Style kung fu cannot be defeated.
     At a creepy abandoned campsite they stop to explore and find a child's tea party still set up, abandoned laundry, and a very unfriendly pooch still wearing a collar. Peter discovers an automobile sunk just underwater off the beach. You can't help but wonder at the events which led to this eerie aftermath.
The souls of the cattle have returned for vengeance.
     An unseen wailing creature seems to follow the couple everywhere they go. They are finally catching on that they have come to a Bad Place which can swallow up entire families but they still don't cooperate with each other. Peter refuses to leave without his dog so Marcia kicks him in the gonads and drives off without him. He finds Cricket on the beach and camps out for the night.
Another good decision, I'm really nailing this back-to-nature thing.
     Marcia tries to escape but this place isn’t finished with her. She plows through a cloud of birds and drives off into a tangled grove of trees. Some spiders terrorize her into abandoning the vehicle and she flees in panic.

Eggy weggs? I'd like to smash them!
     Peter's camp is surrounded by spooky howls and flapping wings, creaking trees and unidentifiable noises. Tree limbs fall on his head. Even the fire seems to leap at him and try to burn his face off. A bird flies over and drops Marcia's shoe into his camp. It’s the little touches like this that give me the shivers and make this movie work for me. There’s no question at this point that the shoe is a message intended for Peter: “You are next.”
I'm going to poop on your head, Pete. Count on it.
     Peter is now properly scared shitless and starts firing his rifle into the dark at every weird noise until he's out of ammo. He only has his speargun left when something squeaks, close by camp, and he finally manages to hit a target out in the dark. In the morning we can see that he has stumbled right back into their original campsite. As the camera pans over the ground we get a real look at just how badly they have trashed the place. Then we see what he hit with the spear... Marcia.
    He finds the truck where she left it. When he returns to Marcia's body, the corpse of the sea-cow has mysteriously appeared nearby: Another silent threat. He sets the dead animal on fire and drives away. When his gas can is empty he throws it on the ground and keeps going. He hasn’t learned a thing! Fallen trees and thick undergrowth force him in circles, bringing him back to the gas can over and over.
I like my steaks critically endangered.
     He goes off-road but his truck gets stuck and Peter abandons it, leaving Cricket trapped inside. One animal after another hisses, growls, or divebombs at him, herding him where the "spirit of the woods" wants him to go. He runs down a clear path between the trees and finally reaches the road. Peter tries to flag down a passing big rig, but the driver is attacked by a bird and the truck veers toward Peter... SPLAT!
My throat is wicked sore.
     The credits show the spear still stuck and wild plants growing around it, implying that Marcia’s body is never found. We don't find out if Cricket escaped from the truck where Peter carelessly ditched her. I would have liked to know, it would've given a little additional insight into the motives of the entity and Cricket was the one character that I was rooting for.
I think we should start seeing other BFFs, Peter.

     Nature gives the humans every opportunity to mend their disrespectful ways but they really are a couple of serious jerks. When She has finally had enough of their human crap, they are manipulated into death at the hands of other humans. Man is the most dangerous animal et cetera.
Look at the cute bunny rabbits!
     My interpretation of the movie is that Gaia, or the spirit of the Outback, or the Blair Witch, or whatever it is, doesn’t actually want to kill Peter and Marcia. It is trying to spare them. If it wanted them dead they would have simply been bitten by something venomous in their sleep. If it just wanted them to leave, it wouldn’t have blocked their departure. If it was playing a sadistic revenge game, then the spirit certainly could have arranged slower, much more torturous deaths. It seems to want to teach them something before it lets them go, but when they prove irredeemable, the Earth Mother goes with plan B and turns them into mulch.
Rest in peace, you lousy no-good primate fucks.

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