"Their crime was against nature… and nature found them guilty" in Synapse's Blu-ray of the creepy Aussie "when nature attacks" classic LONG WEEKEND.
Although things are strained in their marriage, Peter (John Hargreaves, CAREFUL, HE MIGHT HEAR YOU) drags wife Marcia (Briony Behets, NIGHTMARES) along on a camping trip to the remote Bournda Beach for the three-day weekend. Along the way they inadvertently start a brush fire, tangle with unfriendly locals, hit a kangaroo, and drive around in circles in the pitch darkness. Their sleep is troubled by unnerving baby-like cries in the night but wake up to find themselves only a few yards away from a deserted but deceptively idyllic beach paradise with the only seeming company to be Mother Nature and an unattended van at the other end of the beach. Overtures of affection are disrupted by little mishaps like a faulty speargun safety while the height of anger seems to spur vicious animal attacks … and someone or something keeps moving the corpse of the sea cow Peter shot in the surf closer and closer to the camp. By the time things become so sinister that even Peter can no longer rationalize them, the forces of nature may not be willing to the shattered couple return to civilization.
Despite its advertising, LONG WEEKEND is nothing remotely like your average "when nature attacks" film from the period (GRIZZLY, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, DOGS). As scripted by Everett De Roche (PATRICK and just about every other Australian genre film from that period), there is no ecological message in this two-person drama of sustained suspense (the early run-in with the locals even teases a backwoods rape-revenge pic if the couple don't kill each other or take their aggression out on the unseen others at the end of the beach). The interventions of nature start out as mere annoyances exacerbating the existing tension between the couple (at times almost seeming like unconscious attacks by one upon the other). Their disregard for nature runs the gamut of carelessly tossed matches and litter, cutting down a tree (just because), spraying ants attracted to their discarded (but never cleared away) food scraps, to Peter recklessly firing his gun into the woods and the water and Marcia smashing an eagle egg ("Spare me the heavy-handed symbolism," she says). The aggression of nature ramps up with the couple's own aggression and fear, but the space trap that is the woods surrounding the beach may indeed be in their heads. There is evidence of other victims, but it is left unexplained if they were targeted because of their own troubles and disregard of their surroundings or if they were just closest in proximity to the origin of a revolt of nature (early on, we hear a news report on the couple's television about a bird attack).
Hargreaves and Behets (who was married to the film's director Colin Eggleston) are excellent as they dance around their lack of intimacy which seems to stem from a miscarriage but is revealed as something more complicated. Cinematographer Vincent Monton – who also lensed the producer Anthony Ginnane's SNAPSHOT, THIRST, and ROAD GAMES – keeps the camerawork mobile, alternating between scenes where Hargreaves and Behets tensely flank the sides of the frame and shots which expose to the "eyes" of nature with foreground foliage or diminish them in long shot against the surroundings. The scoring of composer Michael Carlos (THE ODD ANGRY SHOT) mixes in more traditional instrumentation with piercing sustained electronic notes that sometimes segue into the unsettling sounds of nature (particularly the dugong cries). Eggleston followed this up with the script for John Lamond's NIGHTMARES (aka STAGE FRIGHT), and directed the slasher INNOCENT PREY (with HALLOWEEN's P.J. Soles), the action film SKY PIRATES (also starring Hargreaves), the psychic thriller CASSANDRA (also with Behets), and his last film would be the vampire comedy THE WICKED before his death in 2002. Amidst the resurgence of Australian genre filmmaking following WOLF CREEK, LONG WEEKEND was given a rather bland remake by Jamie Blanks (STORM WARNING) in 2008 – with second unit directed by Monton – starring Jim Caviezel (PERSON OF INTEREST) and Claudia Karvan (FARSCAPE) which was released direct-to-video stateside as NATURE'S GRAVE.
Despite the film's international success, LONG WEEKEND had no theatrical release in the United States, arriving instead on panned-and-scanned VHS from Trans World Entertainment (although the Canadian Interglobal tape was just as widely distributed on our side of the border). The film received its widescreen debut courtesy of Synapse Films on HD-mastered DVD in 2005 (the Australian DVD from that period was reportedly from an SD master) which featured commentary from executive producer Richard Brennan and director of photography Vincent Monton as well as an audio interview with the late Hargreaves, the film's trailer, and a chapter insert with a two-page essay by Michael Felsher on the inside. It goes without saying that Synapse's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 Blu-ray is sharper and more detailed than the DVD – especially when taking into account the 1970s Panavision lenses and low-light photography (which produces flare in light sources not unlike those observed in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) – but the darker scenes strip away the murk and reveal minute shifts of focus the center of split-diopter shots. The original mono track is included in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio as well as a 5.1 remix (also included on the DVD) that spreads out the music, the atmospheric effects, dugong cries, and shotgun retorts without seeming gimmicky.
Brennan and Monton start off there commentary discussing how they pushed to shooting this $300,000 film in Panavision and the ways they sought to exploit the widescreen framing throughout (in spite of the challenges it sometimes presented as well as their opportunity to avail themselves of the Panaglide prototype during the last week of shooting). Brennan recalls how he read De Roche's script for PATRICK and liked it, so the writer then showed him LONG WEEKEND and introduced him to Eggleston (both had worked with Monton on FANTASM COMES AGAIN). Brennan has his production diary available, and his notes spark off anecdotes about seeking funding during the shoot as well as nearly drowning while wearing the rig for the swimming dugong. They also highlight the production design of Larry Eastwood (DEAD END DRIVE-IN) and how assistant director Tom Burstall – son of director Tim Burstall (ALVIN PURPLE) – kept them to the four week schedule and insisted they replace De Roche's dog with a trained one for the role Cricket.
Of the film's poor reception in Australia, Brennan suggests it is due to the audience's familiarity with the territory and its wildlife, as well as how the film was more successful overseas at Cannes and various international genre film festivals (Hargreaves took a best actor award at Sitges over Laurence Olivier in DRACULA, Donald Pleasance in HALLOWEEN, and Klaus Kinski in NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE). Brennan also reveals that the actor who plays the truck driver Mike McEwen was cast because of his striking resemblance to Hargreaves (indeed, McEwen had served as his stand-in on the film DEATH CHEATERS, footage from which director Brian Trenchard-Smith incorporated into his later STUNT ROCK). Also carried over is the audio interview with Hargreaves (4:43) conducted in 1995 by Tony Watts (who co-authored a book on the actor with Genevieve Picot) in which he discusses learning how much actual film acting differed from his theatrical training. The film's trailer (2:05) rounds out the extras. (Eric Cotenas)
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