Long Weekend

Long Weekend

Director: Colin Eggleston

Writer: Everett De Roche

Cast: John Hargreaves, Briony Behets, Mike McEwen

Australia 1978

92 mins

Christopher Eggleston’s cult Ozploitation shocker Long Weekend (1978), released at the height of the Australian New Wave, is an eco-horror movie portraying all aspects of Mother Nature as being interconnected and humanity as a pollutant to be eradicated. Scripted by Everett De Roche, whose other screenplays include Patrick (Richard Franklin, 1978) and Razorback (Russell Mulcahy, 1984), Long Weekend offers up a sinister vision of the planet’s collective ‘immune system’ closing ranks and fighting back against unwelcome foreign bodies. With a tag line reading ‘their crime was against nature… and nature found them guilty’, De Roche’s plot sees crass, macho Peter (John Hargreaves) and cold, neurotic Marcia (Briony Behets), a closeted, selfish and unhappily married urban couple, descend on an untamed coastal area rich in flora, fauna and wildlife for a weekend camping trip arranged to help save their failing marriage. Out of their ‘natural’ city environment and showing ignorant, callous disregard for their new surroundings, the wholly unsympathetic couple upset the rhythm and equilibrium of the area with fatal consequences. Their ‘crimes’ include running down a kangaroo, blindly ignoring a ‘Private - keep out’ sign, destroying plant life, taking an axe to a tree for fun and shooting a harmless sea cow. The ensuing clash, as plant life, wildlife and land, sea and air fight back against the man-made guns, axes and insecticides, dominates the unfolding events and the ostensibly beautiful ancient surroundings turn ugly, a reflected physical manifestation of the couple’s contemporary inner torments. Peter and Marcia, symbolic of mankind’s self-indulgent and rapacious appetites, are watched, judged, rejected and finally coughed up and spat out like an unwanted furball.

Reminiscent of Saul Bass’s woefully under-appreciated ant invasion chiller Phase IV (1974), Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and William Girdler’s The Day of the Animals (1977), among other loosely related man-against-nature films, Eggleston and De Roche’s imagined scenario has a strong subversive streak running through it. Audience expectations are constantly challenged: the titular break, that cherished extended weekend, becomes a drawn out, tortuous descent into marital breakdown, paranoia and death, the lead characters are the invaders to be repelled and audience sympathy is squarely aligned with Mother Nature’s vicious retribution. By alternately having the camera at ground level among the plants and insects, circling the incessantly argumentative and unlikeable couple in a predatory fashion or assuming the God-like position among the treetops, the director leads the audience to become omnipotent, judgmental and complicit. A combination of striking imagery, tight narrative structuring and impressive use of sound creates an ultra-weird and increasingly delirious sense of paranoia, which the couple simultaneously suffer and are accused of causing. The soundtrack, a mixture of cacophonous, discordant electronica, primal, guttural animal sounds and moments of eerie deathly silence, is an essential factor in creating the tension, off-kilter atmosphere and sense of symbiosis in the film. A repeated aural motif is used to link the differing elements - when one creature or plant is hurt or destroyed an anguished howl of pain/rage is heard coming from elsewhere in the environment. The supposedly dead sea cow exemplifies the disturbing and uncanny events, dragging itself incrementally up the beach and into the couple’s campsite, invading their territory as they have invaded nature’s.

Film critics at the time claimed that Hargreaves, described as ‘the quintessential Australian man’, and Behets, a regular in television soaps, were miscast in their roles, but it is precisely because they seem ill at ease that their unnatural status within the narrative is strengthened. Long Weekend, while not without flaws, succeeds in its exploitation and twisting of genre conventions, with its eco-horror themes and re-positioning of mankind as an alien threat creating an effective, unsettling experience. Eggleston’s film, the subject of an inferior 2008 remake starring Jim Caviezel by fellow Australian director Jamie Blanks, is an enduringly bizarre example of reversed psycho-geography, where the effects of mankind on environment produces extreme and unforgettable results.

Neil Mitchell