Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Reviewed on 2008 October 7
I know this is something of a cult film, and because I’m partial to those, and because I always have a soft spot for a movie that tries to give you a raging case of the creeps (or at least a good chill) without using gore, I really tried to like this. It had some great moments but overall it fell short of the mark. I’m not saying it’s a poorly done movie or anything like that, I’m just saying it wasn’t my thing. It started with a warning for more sensitive viewers and got right to a shot of the rock, eerie music growling in the background, and then shifted gears with the panpipes. Your mileage may vary.
The students of The Appleyard College are preparing for a special day out: a picnic at the famous landmark, Hanging Rock. Appleyard College is a school for young ladies in Victorian-era Australia, and headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) looks properly stern. Her hair is piled on top of her head in a gravity-defying bun that makes her look a little like Tenniel’s queen from Alice in Wonderland. She keeps her petticoats tight and her garments black despite the heat, cheerily informing the young women that as a special treat she’ll allow them to remove their gloves once they’re out of town.
The picnic progresses drowsily along, until three young women and a teacher disappear without a trace. Edith (Christine Schuler) runs screaming for help, and while she was with the women can’t remember a thing about what happened. Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) is the beautiful and beloved golden child at the college, and the mourning for her is painful. In fact the grieving for her eclipses the grieving for the others to the point that it’s disturbing. I think the reaction of the town in the aftermath of the whole thing is more unsettling than anything director Peter Weir could have shown us on that rock, and there’s one great, brief scene where the schoolgirls start to go all “Lord of the Flies”.
The movie could have used a lot more of that. I like ambiguity but as strong as my imagination is, it needs a little something to fuel it, and this was the cinemagraphic equivalent of a ricecake. The acting was very good and the scenery was gorgeous but overall there was too little here to make much of an impact on me. I also know a lot of people loved the panpipes but they just went through my head like a dental drill. I did like the observations Weir made about human nature. Deliberate or not, there was one wonderfully ironic bit. Mrs. Appleyard, trying to cope with everything going on, pours herself a drink of something strong. She may have used a cut-crystal decanter and imbibed from a delicate little etched glass, but the stuff itself looked like it could take the tarnish off silver.
Two chocolate morsels.