Starring: Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert, Vivean Gray
Director: Peter Weir
Running Time: 115 mins
Picnic At Hanging Rock is an Australian film about a group of schoolgirls who vanish while on a school trip in the countryisde, leaving those left behind deeply haunted and frustrated as to what exactly happened to them.
Take the most typically 1970s soundtrack and dark drama vibes and mix it with a bizarre and deliberately frustrating classic Australian urban legend – that’s Picnic At Hanging Rock. As dated a film it may appear, and as endlessly frustrating as its story may be, it is a very competent and deeply unsettling watch throughout, albeit not one that you’ll really have all that much fun with.
Let me explain. This film is based on a novel in which the author was deliberately ambiguous about whether the events that took place were real or not, creating a deeper sense of mystery and darkness around them. The film reinforces that idea, and makes for a very peculiar watch as you’re led to believe that what you’re watching did actually happen, something that makes the mystery of the girls’ disappearance all the more powerful and impacting.
What’s more is that the way in which the story is laid out following the disappearance is deliberately set up to be frustrating and tense. The characters endlessly struggle to explain what happened on that day at Hanging Rock, and that frustration turns to very dark drama as bad things begin to happen to all the girls and women who were left behind too.
Now, that’s the part of the film that felt like a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, one or two major characters have a little bit more depth to them, not only offering drama with regards to the earlier disappearance, but bringing in some more complex themes relating to repressed sexuality and femininity, which was interesting to see.
On the other, a story that’s deliberately set up to be frustrating ends up being a rather frustrating watch. While it doesn’t deserve to lose out for achieving its objective, I can’t say that I ever felt wholly engrossed by the story and mystery at hand, meaning that the frustration felt by the characters in not being able to solve it translated to my own frustration in the story not being able to move along.
That’s why Picnic At Hanging Rock won’t be a film to sit back and enjoy with friends like other urban legend-based movies. It’s a great story, but the way that it’s set up isn’t optimum for full intrigue and more, which is what frustrated me the most.
However, the one thing about the film that did really grab me was the deeply unsettling atmosphere. From beginning to end, there’s a very heavy, almost oppressively unnerving atmosphere surrounding everything that’s going on, emphasised by the overbearing (and very stereotypically 70s) soundtrack combining pan flutes and space-age organ sounds.
As a result, Picnic At Hanging Rock fully achieves its aim of making you feel rather uncomfortable and a little scared, and the fact that there is seemingly no explanation as to why some of the events occur makes it all the more unsettling, which I thought was brilliant to see. The same may not be fully replicated in the way the film’s story unfolds, which makes it an unfortunately frustrating and less-than enthralling watch, so that’s why I’m giving Picnic At Hanging Rock a 6.8 overall.