Long Weekend (1978)
Written by Everett De Roche
Starring John Hargreaves, Briony Behets, and Mike McEwan
I seem to watch a fair number of movies about terrible people. Of course, the advantage to having awful characters is that the audience won’t feel too sorry for them when they die. They might even cheer. Unfortunately, when the movie essentially only has two people in it and they’re both horrid, there’s not much to occupy the viewer except for the thin hope that they’ll have the decency to die quickly. Preferably in a dramatic and entertaining manner.
Such is the case with today’s movie, the Australian environmental horror Long Weekend. Nature had always been a source of peril in movies. Fierce animals and quicksand awaited the adventurous who ventured into lost lands and uncharted territories. These were usually threats that could be managed by the alert and square of jaw, and they amounted to little more than added excitement. Godzilla ushered in the age of humans summoning nature’s wrath; and, even after the giant monster became a niche market, the theme of ecological terror resonated strongly. Birds, frogs, and even ants attacked people.
So it’s almost retro that De Roche wrote about a couple from the city going out to the wilderness and summoning the unified wrath of all the animals. Sure, there were colonial-fear horror flicks about white people stirring up monsters in parts foreign and undeveloped. This isn’t like that, though. Long Weekend is just ordinary nature having had enough. It’s an outlier, and that alone makes it worth seeing.That’s something to consider while watching this one. I mentioned that the leads are unbearable. At least since the Taylor and Burton movie adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, quarreling couples have been the stuff of drama. What everyone seems to forget is that the power of that story comes from the young couple being used as a new battleground for the same old war. Here, along a forgotten stretch of beach, there’s just Peter and Marcia. There’s no one to care about. Okay, there’s Peter’s dog.
I want to like Marcia. Her hatred for Peter seems rooted in valid causes, and she hadn’t actually wanted to go camping. But while she’s not as generally loathsome as Peter — who shoots randomly, throws bottles around, and generally comes off as an internet troll on vacation — Marcia can’t resist turning the screws whenever an opportunity presents. It’s a codependent relationship that’s surprisingly realistic. Congratulations, filmmakers. You’ve captured something that’s no fun to watch.
Neither Peter nor Marcia respects the outdoors or its denizens, and that seals their fate. Individually, nothing is too serious or inexplicable. A possum bites Peter. An eagle attacks, perhaps looking for its egg. They get lost driving along wilderness trails. Branches fall in the night. It all adds up, combining with their own tension to make the pair absolutely and dangerously paranoid. Perhaps most inexplicable is the dead sea cow. Symbol of their crimes against the wilderness, it moves ever closer to their camp.On the whole, it’s a neat film. The scenery is beautifully shot. The effects of mental deterioration are well realized, and as I hinted most of the animal attacks are separately inconsequential. For most of the running time, there’s a real ambiguity about whether nature is rising. A hint in the beginning seems to indicate that incidents of animal aggression are on the rise, and by the end it’s hard to deny that something is up. I have problems with the narrow focus on two unlikable characters, but that’s not enough for me to give up on it entirely. I confess that the inclusion of a tarantula in a pivotal scare role might have endeared it to me just a lot. To be honest, abandoning my vehicle seems to me like a sensible reaction to the sudden appearance of a large spider on the windshield.