Long Weekend Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
Attempting to resurrect their failing marriage, Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) set out on a camping trip to a deserted stretch of the Australian coastline, hoping a long weekend in the sunshine will help them patch their differences. They are a careless couple, littering the countryside with garbage, shooting guns, and even driving away after wounding a kangaroo with their automobile. Their callous disregard for the environment soon becomes apparent when the animals start to seek vengeance. Marcia and Peter have proven themselves to be destroyers of nature. Will the animals allow them to leave or will they too be destroyed? (From Synapse’s official synopsis)
Australia is a beautiful place, full of unique and bizarre creatures, many of which are genetically modified to efficiently and thoroughly kill you if you so much as look at them funny. It might not be the most hostile environment for humans to live in (it’s not a frozen tundra or arid desert, and there aren’t many active volcanoes in the outback), but it’s still one of the most dangerous places on Earth in which a human can live comfortably. Aussie cinema, especially genre cinema, often deals with the frightening experience of existing in such an inhospitable environment. Sometimes, this manifests in the form of human monsters – mad killers, violent and xenophobic rural communities, and post-apocalyptic wastelands – but there is also an enduring tradition of movies about nature, specifically animals, revolting against the silly humans that encroach on their habitats. These included Russell Mulcahy’s hallucinatory killer pig nightmare, Razorback (1984), Arch Nicholson’s dramatically-tinged killer croc thriller, Dark Age (1987), and Colin Eggleston’s genuinely unnerving Long Weekend (1978).
Ecohorror, as the subgenre is often referred to, usually becomes an environmentalist parable, whether or not it’s designed to be that way. Even when environmental issues aren’t openly discussed, as they are in the aforementioned Dark Age, it tends to be implied that human intervention is to blame for the animal on people violence. Long Weekend doesn't really stop for the characters to debate humanity’s strain on our climate, but its ecological message is still its foremost text. As soon as the film opens, mankind is already mounting an ignorant attack on nature. Lead antagonist Peter’s noisy car engine startles pigeons in a human-infested downtown Sydney. During preparation for his trip with his wife Marcia, the family dog becomes the unworthy cause of a blow-out argument. As the passive aggressive bickering turns combative, things get worse. Peter starts a fire by tossing a lit cigarette out of the truck window, then runs over a kangaroo while impatiently passing another vehicle on the highway. Unable to find the designated campground, Peter decides that it’s okay to cut through the brush and set up camp wherever he pleases. He also chops down a tree the next morning just for the hell of it. Marcia eventually bloodies her hands when she kills a colony of ants with insecticide, but her crimes pale in comparison to her husband’s, especially after he gets drunk, shoots his rifle randomly into the air, and tosses garbage into the ocean.
This careless carnage underscores a poignant study of a disintegrating romantic relationship. Eggleston, screenwriter Everett De Roche, and the actors are set with an impossible task – they must build a sympathetic alliance between the audience and two characters that do almost nothing but argue and cause casual, indiscriminate destruction. When we meet Peter and Marcia, they’re already breaking down. Eggleston and De Roche set the dysfunction bar high, including a scene where Peter casually aims his rifle at Marcia and watches her through the crosshairs of the scope. By showing something this severe this early, the filmmakers ensure that every subsequent tender moment is tainted. Discussion implies that a simple affair came between the couple, but the real cause of strife is more complicated. The filmmakers clue us into the problem via a very clever visual metaphor when Marcia finds an eagle’s egg. She’s tempted to cook it, but she holds onto it, instead, obliviously fondling it throughout the day. She’s also unable to reciprocate Peter’s sexual advances and, at her most vulnerable, she is haunted by the distant cries of a lost dugong pup. But it isn’t until she breaks down and smashes the egg against a tree that we learn the implied truth – she had an abortion. And, of course, she and Peter both blame each other for the situation, rather than accepting responsibility.
Nature’s revenge is a slow burn. They aren’t so much attacked as haunted by the environment and the subtlety is delicious. Mosquitoes briefly attack en force. A shark-like shape approaches Peter in the water. Mold begins to rot their food. By the time more violent attacks befall the couple and the punchy, standard horror movie scares begin, Eggleston has already doused the audience in enough eerie phenomena and dread to ensure that even something as inherently ridiculous as flocks of birds slamming their bodies into the windshield of a sturdy off-road vehicle can seem authentically terrifying. Eggleston had worked steadily as a television director throughout the ‘70s and made his feature debut with Fantasm Comes Again (1977), a sequel to Richard Franklin’s softcore porn “classic,” Fantasm (aka: World of Sexual Fantasy, 1976). Long Weekend was his first drama and first horror movie and it shows incredible confidence, especially in terms of elegant static shots and the way he is able to blend emotional turmoil into increasingly disorienting visuals. As the ordeal drags on, camera angles become more subjective, as if something is watching the angst-ridden couple from the trees and grass. The environment becomes an inescapable maze.
After Long Weekend, Eggleston continued working in TV and directed more horror movies, including Innocent Prey (1984), Cassandra (1986), and The Wicked (aka: Outback Vampires, 1987). He also co-wrote, produced, and edited John Lamond’s super-sleazy slasher Nightmares (aka: Stage Fright, 1980). Writer De Roche was more of an Ozploitation superstar than Eggleston. His long career extended all the way to 2010 and included Richard Franklin’s Patrick (1978), Road Games (1981) and Link (1986), Simon Wincer’s Harlequin (aka: Dark Forces, 1980), and Russell Mulcahy’s aforementioned Razorback.
Long Weekend made its DVD debut via Synapse in 2005. It was anamorphically enhanced and up to the standards the studio had already set for itself. This 1080p, 2.40:1 Blu-ray release is listed as being transferred from ‘original vault materials,’ though it doesn’t specify if it is a brand new scan or an uncompressed version of the SD version. I assume it is a re-scan, but it doesn’t really matter, because the image quality is top-tier stuff. There isn’t a whole lot of room for improvement. Some viewers will be put off by the amount of grain, which is most obvious in wide shots of bright blue ocean and skies. But the grain is consistent and appears routine for a 35mm production of this age. There are some more obvious signs of wear and tear peppered throughout, including minor scuffs and some warped edges (though those are often just anamorphic lens distortion). Details are rarely obscured by these basic film artefacts and, as a matter of fact, are quite sharp throughout, including both the broad vistas and the intricate patterns of close-ups. Colors are vibrant, natural, and well-separated, even during those grainier, wide-angle shots.
For their 2005 DVD, Synapse prepared a 5.1 remix of the original mono soundtrack. That track and a 2.0 mono track have been remastered for DTS-HD Master Audio. The remix is tastefully done and utilizes what seems to be existing audio to fill out the channels and create stereo and surround movement (cars moving through shot, off camera ambience, et cetera). This enhancement isn’t always successful (there’s some reverb and awkward channel shifting here and there), but the important aural elements remain intact and dialogue is effectively centered. The original sound design is pretty quiet for long stretches, creating a soft canvas for the more abstract additions, specifically the bizarre ‘nature’ noises that accompany any damage to the environment; some of which are meant to evoke a crying baby. The dynamic impact is similar on both tracks, though the scope of the remix is slightly more impressive. Michael Carlos’ nerve-wracking music does sound bigger on the remixed track. The stereo enhancements and LFE support give the score a nice breadth.
Commentary with producer Richard Brennan and cinematographer Vincent Monton – This particular track has been borrowed from two previous DVD releases (Synapse’s R1 version and Umbrella’s R0 Australian version). The tone is a bit dour, sort of like a Q&A/seminar, but the anecdotes are enlightening. Brennan and Monton are speaking on the same wavelength, so to speak, and the information is evenly distributed between them. The conversation tends to lean towards technical aspects, specifically the photography and the difficulties of working on a tiny budget. I suppose I would’ve prefered more analytical discussion and stories about working with animals.
Still gallery set to an audio interview with actor John Hargreaves (4:40, SD) – This short chat with the film’s star covers his interactions with the director. The stills include some very amusing make-up effects images.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.