Rewatched Jul 01, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
Read any review for Peter Weir’s mesmerising masterpiece, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and you will see the words haunting, dream-like and enigmatic appear time and again. They are vague and uncertain descriptions but perfectly apt for a film that is elusive, ambiguous and rich in symbolism, complexity and interpretation. I have watched the film numerous times over the years (this, my first viewing in high-definition) and every time I am surprised by the new things I find, the new interpretations I dream up and the mixed emotions the film manages to evoke.
On Valentine’s Day in 1900, a school trip to Victoria’s Hanging Rock turns to disaster when three students and their teacher disappear without trace. Whilst sounding like the premise for an investigative thriller, the film is far more teasing and profound. It has the ominous air of a horror film with lingering shots of foreboding rock formations, discordant music and the palpable sense of impending doom. Yet to call it a horror film would give a false impression because the film only ever alludes to terror, enigmatically hinting at a primordial force spiriting away the adolescent girls. It is an experience that builds gradually without delivering the cathartic release associated with the genre and it is this lack of release that helps make the film so troubling and thought provoking.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is not merely about the disappearance of four unfortunate souls. It is a film that explores man’s relationship with nature, burgeoning sexuality in a repressive environment and an immigrant population (i.e. European settlers) ignorant of native cultures. Much like the film’s central mystery these are themes that are only tantalisingly dangled in front of the audience, it is up to the viewer whether they are significant or should be ignored.
Unlike the film’s events, the beauty of Russell Boyd’s cinematography is not up for debate. It is certainly one of the most striking films I have had the pleasure of watching; capturing and informing the dreamy and off-kilter tone of the story. Performances by the major cast members is strong yet the support is less than convincing. Bizarrely though it seems to work in the film’s favour.
For an audience weaned on modern movies, a film that raises questions but refuses to answer them may be a frustrating experience. However, this is a mystery best not solved. If you are willing to be transported to this lyrical and mystical world, much like the missing girls of Hanging Rock, then it is a beguiling two hours that is impossible to forget.