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Tabula Rasa

Long Weekend

Directed by Colin Eggleston, Dugong Films, 1977

Review by Kyla Ward

Long Weekend video cover

Long Weekend video cover from the US (with misspelling of the lead actress' name)

Peter: How we relish the taste of human flesh, hey love? Neo-cannibals.
Marcia: Estranged cannibals. Filing for divorce on Monday.
Peter: Long weekend, sugar. Have to miss tennis and do it Tuesday.

He has arranged a camping trip to a remote beach. She would prefer to spend the long weekend in a suite at a luxury hotel, or at least in the company of friends. They're off to a bad start, and things don't improve as they hit a kangaroo on a dark and lonely road.

It's true that the beach and the surrounding bush look wonderful in the morning light. But then the campsite is infested with ants. The meat they've brought goes off. The real tensions between Peter and Marcia begin to assert themselves. And a huge, dark shape appears, following Peter through the crystalline waters of the bay. By the time they discover just how inimicable to humanity this place can be, it may already be too late.

There are a number of lessons implicit in this film. One may concern the wisdom of camping at a beach the locals have never heard of, especially when the turn-off is just past an abattoir. But seriously, Long Weekend is a meditation on the disconnectedness and alienation of modern life, constructed as a thriller.

At one point, Marcia dismisses Peter's swimming and shooting activities as a misguided attempt to get in touch with some reality that doesn't exist in their daily lives. The fact is that, throughout the film, both of them fail to interact with either their environment or each other in anything but a destructive way. They have been on this course for some time; what happens at the beach feels as much like a natural culmination as something supernatural. However, as things turn out, they are not the only people to have ended up here, so maybe there is more to it than poor judgement and belligerent wildlife. Certainly something is up with the dugong.

This was Colin Eggleston's first film, although he had nearly a decade of television work behind him. His later directorial outings included Cassandra (1987) and Outback Vampires (1987), both of which he also assisted in writing. He also wrote/co-produced Nightmares (1983). Long Weekend was written by Everett De Roche, whose credits include Patrick (1978), Harlequin (1980), Razorback (1984) and more recently, Visitors (2003). In Long Weekend, the writing and directing complement each other admirably. Special mention should also be made of the sound. The mixer is not credited but s/he and the sound editor, Peter Burgess, create a magnificently eerie soundscape of electronic distortion, instrumental quavers and the cries of animals and birds. One sequence in particular, where Peter is sitting by a dying campfire, depends entirely upon what he and the audience can hear in the darkness around him.

Peter is played by John Hargreaves, who has appeared in a substantial number of Australian films and television programs. Briony Behets plays Marcia. She also appears in Eggleston's Nightmares and Cassandra. Both actors are riveting here, both when playing off each other and when alone in their nightmarish surrounds. And they are nightmarish. This film is a good example of how fear can be created in bright sunlight and it contains some truly memorable images, including some genuinely frightening animals! To make Australian animals, birds, and marine life fearful would not seem much of a challenge; this country boasts some of the most grotesque creatures in the world, not to mention the most venomous. But it does seem to be a difficult trick in films, to make the audience read the creature as a threat, rather than a signifier of "Australia".

As in all good thrillers, the pace increases exponentially to a shocking climax. Whether the lessons are learnt and by whom is something that each viewer must decide for herself. But Long Weekend is an engrossing and intelligent exploration of some dark terrain.

 

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