Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Picnic at Hanging Rock</strong> (1975)

(On Cable TV, April 2018) Sometimes, the real terror comes from not knowing. So it is that Picnic at Hanging Rock first shows itself as a period drama following the disappearance of a few teenage girls in the Australian Wilderness, but ends up being an unnerving quasi-horror film in which there are no answers and no relief. The visual polish and atmosphere of the film will feel familiar to fans of director Sofia Coppola’s work—I was feeling moderately pleased to find the similarity, but then read that Coppola explicitly based the look and feel of a few of her movies on this one and was suitably humbled. Suffice to say that contrast between the carefree nature of the girls at the beginning of the movie and the lurking horror that gradually follows the disappearance of a few of them ends up being one of the film’s driving contrasts. Ably re-creating a historical period seldom seen in films (1900 rural Australia), Picnic at Hanging Rock is a treat to watch and a nightmare to contemplate. Few movies deliver as few answers to their central mysteries. Here, girls disappear and the focus becomes on what happens in the aftermath of that disappearance, never to dwell on the possible reasons for their fate. It’s profoundly unsatisfying and that becomes the point of the film—we feel just as cheated of a release as the characters. (An answer of sort is to be found in literary sources, but the author’s concluding chapter feels too ludicrous to be satisfying.)  I may not like director Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock very much, but I can’t help but respect the power of its intentions—and I almost consider it the best film that Sofia Coppola didn’t direct.

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