Friday 8 April 2011

Long Weekend (2008)

LONG WEEKEND is an Australian horror / thriller in the eco, or 'revenge of nature', subgenre.  It was written and directed by Jamie Blanks, who also composed the music.  It is basically a two-hander, and the stars are Jim Caviezel, probably best known for Terrence Malick's ode to nature THE THIN RED LINE (1998) and Mad Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004), and Claudia Karvan whom I know only from the so-so vampire flick DAYBREAKERS (2009).  This is actually a remake of Colin Eggleston's 1978 original and, in my view, is inferior.  In case you're not familiar with it, the film is about a unhappily married couple who go to an isolated stretch of beach for a long weekend.  While there, they find that nature will eventually fight back if it abused enough.

I dont' know whether cinema audiences have got less sophisticated over the last 30 years or whether film-makers have just assumed they have.  I do know that the average age of the contemporary cinema-goer has dropped quite sharply so maybe film-makers have made the assumption that younger audiences are less sophisticated or perhaps less demanding.  Either way, the problem with this film is that it feels obliged to spell everything out, every step of the way, as if the audience is too thick to be trusted with mere hints or clues.  In my review of THE DEAD OUTSIDE, I complained that the film was confusing rather than ambiguous.  I'm afraid that in this review I'm going to complain that the film is obvious rather than ambiguous.

I will concede that it has been a few years since I saw the original so I stand to be corrected on any of the points I'm about to make but I recall it being unsettling as opposed to graphic, and troubling as opposed to horrific.  In the new version, the unhappily married couple are depicted as being two unpleasant people from the outset, so much so that I felt little sympathy for them when things turn nasty.  I don't recall that about the original; they are unhappy in their relationship, sure, but nowhere near as spiteful and vicious as these two.

There's still something in the water, 30 years on.
Perhaps more importantly, the couple's attitude to nature is made more explicit in the remake.  He smashes bottles, she smashed eggs; he treats the beach as a theme park and wildlife as the attractions; she treats it as a hell on earth.  In the original I believed the point to be that the couple's attitude was essentially just thoughtlessness, except that there was a heavy price to be paid both by nature and ultimately the couple themselves for that thoughtlessness.

Similarly, the glaringly obvious nature of the remake is rendered clear by having Peter discover dead bodies among the wreckage of the other campers' site; indeed he gets trapped with a corpse in a submerged VW camper van.  I think that sequence also gives you a clue as to the film's intention; unlike Eggleston's film the remake is a pretty straightforward, out-and-out horror movie.  But for me the one thing that typified the film's brutal attention-grabbing sensibility was the sequence where the couple pull in at a bar to buy some liquor.  There is a massive neon sign outside the bar which reads "EGGLESTON MOTEL".  That sort of deliberate and obtrusive in-joke is either going to pass over the heads of the casual movie fan, and is therefore unnecessary, or is going to stand out like a sore thumb to the movie buff, who knows and probably likes the original. This kind of thing really annoys me; probably the worst exponent of it is Tarantino. A more fitting tribute to the late Colin Eggleston, who died in 2002, would have been to leave his film to stand alone.

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