In my prior post on Day of the Animals, I mentioned how “man vs. nature” films are often hard to take seriously; it can be due to the lack of budget or the poorly veiled eco-themed warnings, but sadly, this seems to be the case more often than not. For every classic in the genre, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, there is a train wreck likeNight of the Lepus. When a truly sensational entry in this genre comes along, it should be celebrated, and up until now the Ozploitation entry Long Weekend has gone largely unnoticed, even in its own county.
Initially, Australia was a wasteland in terms of film production. In an effort to correct this, starting in the 1970s large tax cuts were made available from the government for those who decided to put their money into Australian-produced films. While this program led to a handful of high profile art films, most of the productions would come to be classified as genre films. With most of the wealthy backers pumping money into the lower budget films, this wave of genre filmmaking would continue well into the 1980s. The second factor that would help create what came to be know as “Ozploitation” (this term was coined by director Mark Hartley who shortened director Quentin Tarantino’s moniker of Aussieploitation) was the introduction of the R rating. Most of these films were created to cash in on the novelty of the new designation, and even helped to bring the Sexploitation genre to Australia. The main requirement of this group of films doesn’t have anything to do with a specific style; instead, it exploits Australian stereotypes and their way of life, hoping to reach audiences not only in its home country but overseas as well. This period in their film history came to be referred to as “The Golden Age of Australian Cinema” – they had succeeded in creating their own New Wave.
I hadn’t heard of this genre until several years ago when the wonderfully entraining Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood came out. One of the films lucky enough to be highlighted was Colin Eggleston’s Long Weekend. Amazing enough, the next day I lucked out and found a used copy of the essential special edition release Synapse put out in the States. SCORE!
The plot revolves around an (for the most part) unsympathetic couple who decide to take a trip into the Australian outback to try to save their failing marriage. During their weekend of isolation, they manage to disrespect nature in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, the following faux pas:
- Running over animals
- Littering at every possible moment
- Liberal use of insecticide
- Starting a brush fire
- Neglecting to help a dying whale
- Using a rifle and axe to prove manliness
- General unpleasantness, resulting in yelling and screaming at each other during most of their waking hours, throwing off the harmonious balance of the nature surrounding them
Nature quickly becomes fed up with the selfish and oblivious nature of the couple’s actions and decides to fight back against their assailants, leading to one of the more disturbing endings in the “man vs. nature” cannon. Long Weekend manages to set itself apart from the other films in this category in several ways. First, it stays straight faced for its 95 minute running time. There are no cheesy moments here, allowing the dread to build as the audience picks up on the warning signs from the outback that the couple miss. Second, the environmental message isn’t preachy, the director and writer assume that their audience is smart enough to pick up on this point without having to be transparent. Recent genre entries, The Happening and The Last Winter, could have learned a thing or two from how the creative team behind theLong Weekend decided to impart their message. Finally, the filmmakers decide to let the couple be horrific, they aren’t interested in generating too much sympathy. At some level, the audience is supposed to enjoy the couple’s comeuppance, which is tricky when you consider that the creative team had to find a happy-medium, allowing the viewer to root for nature but also remain horrified at the consequences that the couple ultimately faces.
Long Weekend is a sustained exercise in tension and dread, a fact that is helped by the beautiful and claustrophobic – an amazing accomplishment given the beautiful nature of its outdoor setting — cinematography of Vincent Monton who would shoot other Ozploitation classics Road Games and Thirst; the complexity in the performances of lead actors John Hargreaves and Briony Behets who allow their protagonists to be self-absorbed and arrogant, yet somehow manage to gain portions of sympathy from the viewer; and Eggleston’s decision to not let the audience off easy, making a film that keeps its audience off kilter until its conclusion. Long Weekend is truly a film deserving of a larger audience, a true lost classic.