Director: Colin Eggleston
Synapse Films

Before the 1980’s spawned the CROCODILE DUNDEE films and the subtle wit of Yahoo Serious, Australia was one of the strongest independent filmmaking communities on the globe. Peter Weir began the renaissance of Down Under films with PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and THE LAST WAVE, both astounding critics and audiences alike. The gates of opportunity opened for other Australian filmmakers until things turned silly with Paul Hogan. Lumped in with other Aussie imports was LONG WEEKEND, marketed as a killer animal schlocker. First things first: LONG WEEKEND is not a horror film. While it has elements of the bizarre and horrific, it is more in keeping with Weir’s arthouse films than an exploitive animal attack vehicle. Those expecting another DAY OF THE ANIMALS or WILD BEASTS, shut away those preconceptions and dive into LONG WEEKEND.

Peter and Marcia are desperate to save their crumbling marriage, so instead of a nice weekend at a hotel resort, Peter buys a cache of camping equipment and the pair takes off for a camping excursion by the beach, with their pet dog in tow. The couple flirts with reconciling, but always find themselves hating each other even more, as Marcia begs to return to the city and Peter tires of her whining and retaliates. The demons haunting their marriage begin to rear their heads and to make matters worse, a strange phenomenon plagues them as the animals around them display signs of aggression and threaten to never let them leave.

The idea of animals suddenly attacking humans for no reason had been tackled multiple times in the 1970s, and even earlier with a variation on the theme usually blowing up the animals to giant proportions via nuclear radiation. And the animals in LONG WEEKEND do begin to retaliate seemingly because of the careless behavior of both humans (a kangaroo hit-and-run accident, cutting down a tree, chucking a bottle into the ocean). But in this brilliant script, the “killer animals” serve a more symbolic purpose, seeming to represent God’s wrath with this bitchy couple. One scene in particular stands out, with a giant eagle attacking Peter for its accidentally abducted egg, not only works as a shock sequence, with surprisingly good fake bird effects, but also seems to symbolize a punishment for his pressuring Marcia to get rid of her own “egg”, their unborn child. A dying mother seacow and its perpetually crying baby also haunt the couple; the seacow is assumed dead, but somehow manages to lurch its way up from the beach to surprise the couple, and the baby’s urgent cries for its mother (which may be imaginary) reminds Marcia of her unwanted abortion. The film isn’t as fast-paced as some may like, but thankfully draggy moments are saved by the scrumptious cinematography by Vincent Monton. Photographed in Panavision and framing every shot to accent the beautiful, but dangerous landscape of the Australian wilderness, Monton also shot the two FANTASM films (the second of which was directed by WEEKEND director Colin Eggleston) and has worked steadily in the Australian film industry over the past 30 years. His work here should have garnered him an Oscar nod.

One element of LONG WEEKEND that many viewers will be repelled by is the utter lack of likable characters. Cast with two actors, John Hargreaves and Briony Behets, the film rests on their shoulders. Thankfully they both deliver exceptional performances, but the characters they are playing waver a fine line between despicable and pathetic. Marcia’s first few scenes find her needlessly antagonistic towards her husband, then the tables turn and Peter tells her to “fuck off” when she asks to go back to the city. As the film progresses, the audience is finally allowed to discover the reasons for their marriage problems, and both are equally at fault. Do we care what happens to them? Deep down inside, there is a shred of hope that they will solve their differences and emerge from the wilderness reunited, but with each new obstacle placed in front of them, they dig the trenches between them ever deeper, resulting in a truly shocking finale. LONG WEEKEND is a brilliant masterpiece, and that’s an understatement.

Synapse’s hi-def transfer of LONG WEEKEND is one of their very best to date, and one to be proud of. Other than a few faint moments of grain during the opening reel and around the hour mark, detail is breathtakingly sharp, the image clear and bright, skin tones accurate, blacks beautifully deep, and the level of crispness on display is astounding. The presentation looks to be from the camera negative or a very well preserved 35mm negative, because the film looks as if it was shot this year. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very strong, bringing across the dialogue and the chilling sound effects and score wonderfully.

The best supplement on the disc is the audio commentary with producer Richard Brennan and cinematographer Vincent Morton. With director Colin Eggleston sadly passing away in 1996, they are the next-best people to discuss the history of LONG WEEKEND and do an excellent job. They talk about the origins of the project, shooting the film in Panavision, the locations, the actors, distributing the film, and reflect on its effectiveness today. A superb commentary to accompany a superb film. A lengthy stills gallery of behind-the-scenes photos, lobby cards, and international posters also includes a brief audio interview excerpt with actor John Hargreaves, courtesy of the author of the book John Hargreaves: A Celebration. Hargreaves doesn’t discuss LONG WEEKEND, but it’s interesting to hear him talk about approaching the art of acting. The theatrical trailer, playing up the horror angle, and appreciative liner notes by Michael Felsher finish up the extras.

Glancing at Synapse’s track record this year, it’s surprising to say that this is their best release of 2005. Surprising because it isn’t a horror or exploitation film, their stock and trade, but a captivating independent work of art that will doubtlessly reveal deeper layers of complexity upon multiple viewings. A solid recommendation for this unexpected jewel of a disc! (Casey Scott)