Tag Archives: Australian

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Polish Poster

If you go into this movie expecting answers to your multitude of questions, you’ll only be disappointed and disillusioned by the lack of explanation provided here. “Picnic at Hanging Rock” is as beautiful and mysterious as the Australian Outback that serves as it’s backdrop. Lovely, virginal school girls in white. Four make the ill-fated climb up Hanging Rock one Valentine’s Day, 1900. But do four come back? After one stunned girl (Christine Schuler) descends the rock unaccompanied by her companions, a all-encompassing search is declared for the young ladies.

Dandyish youth Michael (Dominic Guard) finds himself sucked in by the girl’s disappearances and searches for them with the reluctant help of his working-class friend Albert (John Jarrett) But to no avail. The teens are quite purely and simply… gone. Meanwhile, bereaved outcast Sara (Margaret Nelson) mourns for her only friend (maybe something more? the film obliquely asks) Miranda (Anne Louise Lambert,) vanished on the now infamous Hanging Rock, while her coarse headmistress (Rachel Roberts) fights to break her spirit.

Visually “Picnic at Hanging Rock” is spectacular, featuring a sumptuous palate, gorgeous indoor sets, and breath-taking scenery showing the Australian Outback in all it’s starkly inhospitable splendor. It isn’t really a movie about characters and feelings as it is a eerie evocation of a time and place, plagued with locals who are more concerned about the young women’s virtue in the wake of such an event than their happiness or psychological health.

When a girl (the only one of three) is found stunned and catatonic, everyone is obsessed whether she is ‘intact’ (i.e. not ravaged by a ill-intentioned Aussie) to a not-quite-normal point. Yes, rape is a terrible thing, but the townspeople’s interest has less to do with genuine concern over Irma (the girl)’s sexual or physical well-being and more to do with their own long-buried repression and diseased small-town curiosity.

Peter Weir establishes an uncanny/unnerving vibe here, a portrayal of small-town Australia so deeply felt yet faraway and surreal that it begins to feel like a passing dream. Anyone who watches this movie is likely to wonder “What is this really about here?” Is it about sex, or frustrated lack of such? Is it about small-town ignorance to the point where the disappearance of young people is something to something to excitedly speak of over toast? Is it about lesbianism?

When the headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard, speaks of the middle-aged teacher (Vivean Gray) who vanished with the others while looking for her missing pupils, she specifically compliments her ‘masculine energy.’ Is Miss Appleyard a lesbian, so deeply mired in the throes of repression that she takes her frustration out on the similarly-inclined Sara? Maybe the Rock is a metaphor for something else, something that similarly can’t be contained or explained.

There’s really not much to directly say about this movie without doing some considerable reading between the lines, which might take multiple viewings and discussions. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the main plotline is left frustratingly open to interpretation. Those of you who love mysterious, dreamlike films will probably be all-too-willing to partake, while those who need an up-front explanation should run away from “Picnic at Hanging Rock” lest they be frustrated and exasperated to it’s focused ambiguity. “Picnic…” is a classic for a reason, but it’s not for everybody.


The Babadook (2014)


How do you review a horror film that has excellently creepy buildup, but you’re just not feeling the ending? That was the question posed to me as the credits of “The Babadook” rolled. The be fair, it’s not a new dilemma- so many horror movies have awesome first halves and just kind of fall apart in the finale, but I felt the pain of this missed opportunity more keenly because the first portion of the movie was so damn good, a slitheringly sinister maternal nightmare topped by a great performance by Essie Davis.

Davis plays Amelia, a browbeaten widow and mother of a severely emotionally damaged six-year-old boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman, who valiantly manages to mostly live up to the script’s demanding expectations.) Amelia works at a rest home and lives a decidedly stressful working-class existence. She cannot pretend that her son doesn’t add significantly to her multitude of worries, but she loves him with the fierce love of a mother who does all she can to raise her son . She is sexually frustrated. She looks perpetually bedraggled.

Amelia is romanced by a co-worker (Daniel Henshall), but she’s afraid to let him in, and when he comes by the house with flowers the kid scares him away. Samuel is expelled from school when he brings a homemade weapon, but things get really bad with mysterious arrival of a seriously disturbing children’s’ book The Babadook, which Amelia ill-advisedly reads to her so without really knowing what it’s about. Samuel and his mother are quickly taken over by dark forces, and under the Babadook’s watchful eyes Amelia starts making a horrifying transformation from supermom to mommie dearest.

The buildup in this film is exceptional- the dark palate and use of eerie editing and imagery propel the movie past typical horror fare, as well as the excellent character development. Amelia is not a perfect woman or mother, but she is an admirable one. Although she has never gotten over the death of her beloved husband, she raises Samuel as best she can in a increasingly forboding environment. Samuel puts you in a position somewhere between ‘wanna tell him it’s all going to be all right, even if it isn’t’ and ‘wanna strangle him,’ and Noah Wiseman plays on this balance effectively. You sorta want to hug him, you sorta want to hit him- in other words, he’s more of a typical child than you might think.

However, the scenes where the possessed Amelia chases Samuel around the house as he tries to fight her with his homemade crossbow are slapsticky enough to put the viewer in mind of a particularly dark “Home Alone.” (Admittedly, “Home Alone” was dark to begin with, but it got nothing on this.) Yes, folks- it seems that when the film hits it’s crescendo, all subtlety goes out the window. Which it a frickin’ shame, because the film up to then is outstanding. The ending doesn’t really work, but after a sub-par supernatural showdown  that isn’t really a big surprise.

Overall, “The Babadook” doesn’t work as well as it should but is still helluva a lot better than standard horror fare. The actors excel in their roles, the sense of fear is palpable but things get a little silly in the last twenty minutes, and isn’t that a shame. I still think the film is worth a watch for horror fans. It’s not half bad, but I guess after all the hype, I just set my expectations too high.