Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
picnic at hanging rock | peter weir | cliff green | rachel roberts | anne-louise lambert | vivean gray | drama | mystery | based on | novel | joan lindsay | australia | jacki weaver | helen morse | kirsty child | john jarratt | tony llewellyn-jones | frank gunnell
Film: Picnic at Hanging Rock
Director: Peter Weir
Writer: Cliff Green
Starring: Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert and Vivean Gray
This was a film that I heard from one of my favorite podcasts. They had said they didn’t necessarily think it was horror, but the concept of the film had me intrigued. I finally decided to check it out and write this review. Now I’ll be the first to admit, it isn’t technically horror. It does have enough elements for me that I’m going to write this up to say why. The official synopsis is during a rural summer picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls’ school vanish without a trance. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.
As the synopsis states, we are at a college that prepares women to be ladies back in 1900’s. It is Valentine’s Day and the girls are going to a rock formation that was created by volcanic activity in the area millions of years ago. The school is run by Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts). She is quite strict. As the girls file down to leave, Miss Lumley (Kirsty Child), advises Sara (Margaret Nelson) that she will not be attending. We aren’t given the reason yet though.
Sara is an interesting character as she is love with her best friend Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert). I don’t think it is in the way that sexual, because we learn later that Sara grew up in an orphanage. Miranda informs her that she needs to open up to other people as she won’t be at this school with her forever.
The rest of the girls file into the carriage that will take them to Hanging Rock and Mrs. Appleyard informs them they can remove their gloves when they pass the small village. Along with them are two teachers, Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray) and Mlle. De Poitiers (Helen Morse). They are also warned to watch out for poisonous snakes and ants that live in the area.
While there, Miranda along with Marion (Jane Vallis) and Irma (Karen Robson) decide to go exploring. They’re given permission and head off with Edith (Christine Schuler) allowed to follow them. Strange things start to happen like their watches stop. They were forbidden from climbing the rock formation, but do anyway. The higher up they go, the more weird things that happen. Edith wants to return and is shocked when the other three remove their shoes and stockings. They go even higher up and Edith screams.
Also in the area is Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard). He is there with his uncle, aunt and their valet Albert (John Jarratt). They noticed the young women as they were going up the rock formation. They’re shocked by the news that they’re missing. They are also the first suspects of possible doing something to them. This takes some weird turns from here. Edith is found, but Miss McCraw went to look and now she’s missing. What happened to them and where could they have gone?
Now I need to start off here stating that director Peter Weir did a phenomenal job of creating a creepy atmosphere. I knew before seeing this that there are way too many things that are poisonous in Australia and that is prevalent when they are going to leave and the things they’re told to watch out for. The danger is high and these young women still go off on their own. It isn’t unbelievable that a volcanic formation would be magnetized, which is why their watches stopped working. It is when the women start to climb the formation does it get eerie.
I normally talk about the soundtrack of a film as one of my last things and I’m not the greatest at noticing them unless it really sticks out. They have a flutist playing a song to Pan and it is quite creepy sounding. To go along with it though, the women start to do things that aren’t natural and acting weird. Immediately seeing it, I started to wonder if possible there is something supernatural here at play. If not that, it could go back to natural things causing them to go mad. It was perfect connection to make the film have an even more surreal feel.
What makes this film even more interesting is I felt it gives us another explanation in the form of Michael and Albert. Michael feels guilty and it made me wonder why. Seeing him get sucked in the madness to try to find them had me wondering if he was a part of it or just a good hearted person.
The final aspect of the story I wanted to touch on was seeing the lives of those affected by this event. Sara loses her only friend and she learns that she might be kicked out of school. Her benefactor is behind on the payments for her to stay there. Mrs. Appleyard has to deal with the backlash of losing these students and her school hangs in the balance. We even have the police officer assigned to the investigation as he is mobbed by his own people for answers. This event affects more than just the lives of the missing and it is something we don’t really think about.
My only real big issue is that I thought there were some pacing issues in the later second act of the film. I thought it did well in establishing the characters and the mystery. Seeing the beginning of the breakdown of those involved was good, that had me hooked. It kind-of meanders for a bit before it picks up in the third act again. It actually has a pretty bleak ending as well, which I was a fan of.
Acting for this film is something else that was quite strong. Roberts is really good as the headmistress. She wants her school to succeed as well as the students, but she is villainous in how vindictive she can be. She is extremely strict as well. Morse is quite a sweet teacher, but weight of what happens to her seems to break her and I thought it was a solid performance. All of the girls are all good in their distinct ways. Nelson is also quite a tragic character. I also wanted to commend Guard. His character I originally disliked, but seeing what he is willing to do turned me around. It’s also fun to see Jarratt in another of his early roles here. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
There’s not really much in the way of effects for the film. They do make the characters look disheveled, which is interesting since the time period they are all dressed up. The costumes look authentic and also quite warm to be in. I think it is also interesting as well since they have to be so proper. The cinematography is also well done.
I’m already touched on it a bit, but the score to this film is absolutely amazing. There are really two different types of songs that the film uses. At times that they are going more for the eerie feel, there is the flute that is played. Being that it is a song to Pan, it’s interesting that things that are out of the norm are happening. There is more classic music for the other times which I thought was good as well as it fit the scenes.
Now with that said, this film isn’t necessarily horror, but the feeling of dread and the mystery definitely make it close. It is haunting to try and figure out what is happening. Going from there, seeing how this event affects everyone is as well. I thought the acting was really good across the board. There was a slight pacing issue, but it doesn’t ruin the film. I liked how they really made it feel like it took place in the 1900’s and was shot very well. The score of the film was great and fits the scenes perfectly. I would say that this is a good film and one that I will check out again in the future.
My Rating: 8 out of 10