Sunday, June 26, 2011

150 Days of Halloween: Picnic at Hanging Rock

First, an unrelated announcement. For those of you who are on Steam and were curious as to what Capsized is like, I reviewed that sucker over on Nightmare Mode. Spoilers: I liked it. Check at the review here if you are interested.
Beautiful game.
If you don't like movies being spoiled, then don't read any further then this. The movie is a strange one, and nothing is clearly offered up to the viewer. For this reason, speculating on its meaning and events requires I reveal aspects of the movie, including its ending. If you don't mind, then read on, otherwise see the movie first. Its a strange one, and doesn't follow many conventions we expect in a movie. This is less a review and more my open musings on the movie, what it meant to me and what i thought of various decisions it made.

A bit of plot for you before I dive into the surreal movie that is Picnic at Hanging Rock. The movie follows the students of an all girls school in Australia in the 1900's. At the open everyone is getting ready for a picnic at the titular mountain, save for one girl who is told she isn't permitted to attend. So everyone piles into the carriage and they head off to for the day. When they arrive everyone discovers their watches have stopped at noon, but their musing are cut short by four girls who ask to strike out to see the mountain better. As the four climb higher they become more and more detached, save for one complaining girl who wants to go back. The higher they go, the more dreamily they talk about life and human purpose, removing stocking, shoes, and corsets as they go. At one point they all silently lay down on the stone to nap in unison, and upon waking three silently climb higher, and the fourth runs off screaming.
Also Beautiful, but a movie.
The screaming girl returns, but can't remember where the other three went, but remembers seeing one of the teachers climbing the mountain as well, but she wasn't wearing her dress anymore. Unable to find them, they return to the school to alert everyone of the missing girls, and the manhunt begins. Among the searchers is a British boy who saw the girls head off to climb the mountain, and becomes obsessed with finding one of them, much to the annoyance of his Australian friend and servant who helps him. The boy is unable to locate any of them, being unable to climb high enough, but his servant isn't as hampered and does manage to locate one girl just above where his friends strength gave out.

The girl, of course, remembers nothing. The school meanwhile is losing students due to the incident and things begin to fall apart. I'll discuss the rest of the movie after we talk about the tone, ending, and story.
A unified nap among lizards and stones.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a strange movie. Generally speaking horror movies have active antagonists, a man with a knife, ghosts, monsters, aliens, and all other manner of dynamic forces seeking to harm the protagonists. A smaller amount make the protagonist into an antagonist, who, through madness or bad choices manage to drive the horror. This movie lacks both of these aspects, its unclear why the events happen as they do, and little explanation is ever offered up.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing either, although for some viewers this can be frustrating, some would even feel its pointless. Some people don't like a lack of closure, and without a proper ending, will often feel the movie was a waste. For me, however, that's not the case. I'm more about the journey then the destination, stories don't necessarily need resolution for me, which may be why I enjoyed this movie.
Never seen such a haunting movie.
The journey of this movie is a study of unease. Sounds are prominently used to un-center the viewer, clocks ticking and then stopping, strange and otherworldly sounds echo down the mountain side, and sometimes the pleasant soundtrack will just abandon you. The characters who will come to vanish in the mountains each have strange moments, of low spoken monologues about the nature of the mountain, wistfully talking about someday leaving, and other moments that displace them from the cheerful classmates around them.

The cheerful, and not so cheerful classmates at times appear to be the true story being told despite the focus being on the search for the missing girls. If you ignore the surreal moments atop the mountain, the real conflict being explored is classicism in 1900 Australia. Everyone is treated well at the all girls school save for one, notably the only Australian girl among a school full of British students and instructors. Besides her friends and one teacher, who is French, the girl is looked down upon and denied a chance to join her friends on the picnic. After her best friend vanishes on the mountain, she gets no consolation or comfort besides being told her tuition wasn't paid, and she is to be returned to the orphanage.
The poor Australian girl trapped in an English hell.
On the other end of the classicism spectrum we have all of these posh British people in the outbacks of Australia. They build homes that stand out in stark relief in the environment, they explore the mountain sides in corsets and proper dresses, they are like a well dressed infestation on the wilds of Australia. It seems as if the country itself was driving events of the movie, the British boy couldn't climb high enough to find the girl, but his Australian friend did. The girl who ran screaming complained the whole way, and the one girl who didn't remain vanished but was found remarkably unharmed after a week in the wild is the only one who expressed concern for the complainer. The other three, and the teacher, were all seen as having reverence for the mountain in some way, and were seen stripping themselves of class before silently vanishing into the mountain.

Back at the school, the poor Australian girl is tormented by everyone but the servants and the French teacher, no one having any pity for her. The girl who returned from the mountain is accosted by her peers who demand to know what happened to their classmates, she has been tainted in their eyes. This ostracizing of the Australian girl would drive her to suicide, unable to take being confined in the small bubble of upper class Britain. As the school falls apart in her hands, the head of the school would later die attempting to climb the mountain that ruined her, she would be found dead and broken at its base.
The man who fails to find the girls or tame the land.
The missing people are never found, not even signs of where they went, no explanation is ever offered up to us or the people of the movie. My speculations are just that, my own interpretations into the movie, largely informed by assumptions I have on Australian feelings toward a colonial England. The movie is beautifully shot and well acted, and many scenes seem pregnant with meaning that I'm not aware of. I'm still not sure what the movie is about, or what it was trying to say. I enjoyed it, certainly, but I also feel like I need someone who is more knowledgeable in the location and time period to explain it to me. I would certainly encourage you to see it, if only so you can also muse on what you have seen.

Tomorrow we return to Sweden, but in 1968 and directed by the esteemed Ingmar Bergman. Hour of the Wolf is notable for being the auteurs only venture into Gothic horror. If you want to know what comes after that, or want to read previous reviews, then check out The 150 Days of Halloween schedule.


  1. Skipped it because of spoilers, may watch someday. Nice Capsized review.

  2. Gotta say the title alone skewed me away from that video review. Can't say I feel good about not reading your hand written work simply because of an image. But it looks like the epitome of what I am not interested in.

    Don't worry. You've redeemed this entry with your post about capsized.

    I bought last week, great game. The loading screens were great, but the gameplay was also exceptional. I loved the fact that each level is different, and sometimes you have to get fuel. Most games just assume you've unlocked it, so you keep it, which is too convenient in many cases. I guess this comment belongs over at Nightmare mode though.

  3. i really like the style of art on that game!

  4. Hour of the Wolf was amazing. My grandma turned me onto that movie. Can't wait!

  5. Damn, this film sounds genuinely creepy. More so by the way you wrote it =3

    Excellent articles, and nicely designed blog. Followed.

    If you get a chance, take a look at mine:

  6. I have only purchased one game via Steam but I like the concept of it. Thanks for the review of Capsized. Perhaps I'll make it my second purchase on Steam.

  7. creepy looking film you got there...

  8. I keep hearing about this, great post.

  9. interesting story for the movie. might have to check this out

  10. Yeah, I skipped the text too, and the caps looks interesting!

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  12. This seems similar to a film I saw at last year's Tribeca Horror Film Festival: Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland’s "YellowBrickRoad" I don't know if you have seen it yet - but I would say give it a whirl and see what you get from the ending. :)