Peter (Jim Caviezel) and his Australian wife Carla (Claudia Karvan) spend a weekend camping in the wild near Moondog Beach, in the hope of rescuing their troubled marriage. However, things get off to an ominous start when a bar full of shifty truckers claim no such beach exists and the friends they were hoping to spend the weekend with never arrive. Any hope of reconciliation slowly fades as the couple bicker and we learn both had extramarital affairs and Carla has had an abortion. Their nerves rattled, Peter and Carla callously despoil the environment: he accidentally runs over a wallaby, throws his lit cigarette on the grass and pointlessly chops down a tree, while she smashes an eagle’s egg. Such wanton disregard for nature seemingly turns the very land itself against the intruders as every living thing that surrounds them takes a deeply unsettling turn.
With the original 1978 version of Long Weekend, screenwriter and stalwart of Aussie genre cinema Everett de Roche and director Colin Eggleston (who gets a hotel named after him here, full of familiarly sinister Aussie character actors including Roger Ward) took the “nature gone amuck” concept to its nth degree. In a genre that runs from the classy end of the spectrum with Jaws (1975) to the trashier side as embodied by Frogs (1972), Grizzly (1977), The Swarm (1978) and too many others to mention, the original comes closest to matching the apocalyptic nightmare conjured by The Birds (1963), and arguably in far subtler fashion. While neither a box-office nor critical success, even in its native Australia, over years the film came to be regarded as an unsung classic, garnering celebrity fans like Quentin Tarantino and exerting an unacknowledged influence on such high-profile horrors as Antichrist (2009) and the recent Australian effort Lost Things (2003). Now, with Aussie genre cinema enjoying a welcome reappraisal in the wake of the excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008), Everett de Roche returns as screenwriter this time with Jamie Blanks, his collaborator on Storm Warning (2006), handling direction. Blanks, who also serves as editor and composer, was the filmmaker behind underwhelming slasher movies Urban Legend (1998) and Valentine (2001), but here delivers his most controlled and suspenseful work.
It was once observed that the original movie failed to connect with an audience because Australians were too familiar with their landscape to find the concept anything other than laughable. Aside from a vaguely silly scene where the couple are observed by a sinister koala and a shock-splatter finale that gets too close to cartoon irony, Long Weekend 2008 weaves an agreeably uneasy atmosphere rife with poetic chills (the stranded sea cow that seems to be slowly creeping up on Peter, inch by inch) and terrifying noises in the dark.
Jim Caviezel plays the belligerent Peter as an overgrown kid, taunting his wife, playing with toys and indulging he-man fantasies of wilderness life. As in the original, while we’re never entirely able sympathise with the despoilers, we can empathise with them especially given how Caviezel and Claudia Karvan include a few grace notes of humanity amidst the constant bickering. One noteworthy scene finds Peter strumming guitar in the woods, like a latter-day Orpheus, serenading the birds and beasts.
The cinematography by Karl Von Moller is crisp and detailed, but narrowly misses recapturing the earlier film’s sense of dread. We don’t feel the landscape shifting around Peter and Carla in quite the same way, but remain uncertain whether they’re so messed up they’re driving each other crazy, or whether something really is out to get them. It’s the ideal movie for anyone even vaguely phobic about the creepy-crawly, critter-infested Australian wild.