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Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

October 2, 2014

picnic-at-hanging-rock-movie-poster-1979-1020191982Picnic at Hanging Rock is a haunting film veiled in delicate daintiness. Though it’s hypnotic, it can be extremely frustrating to watch. Its legacy stands it’s in equivocal nature which may give way to feelings of anger and dissatisfaction once the ending credits appear. In fact, during the film’s initial screening a distributor supposedly threw his coffee at the screen complaining that he had just wasted two hours of his life on a “mystery without a goddamn solution.” Peter Weir’s semi-erotic thriller follows a group of boarding school girls on Valentine’s Day in 1900 and the mysterious disappearance of a few while picnicing at Hanging Park. Their vanishing quickly brings sorrowful panic to their school and those within the town.

Throughout the entirety of Picnic at Hanging Rock’s 115 minute run time the question of what happened to the missing girls is never answered. We never learn of their whereabouts or who or what was involved in their disappearance. This list of unanswered questions is reason enough why watching Picnic at Hanging Rock might be a daunting experience to some viewers.

picnic-at-hanging-rock-still

However, the film’s charm exudes mostly from its attention to detail. The era in which the film takes place is captured through immaculate costume design and heavy use of natural lighting. Judith Dorsman’s costume design is the zeitgeist of late 19th century fashion. Gowns glow in their ivory tent and lace engulfs the women adding to the nature of the film’s daintiness. Meanwhile, Max Lemon’s masterful editing helps piece together scenes that captures an air of longing and suspicion. Yet, its ambiguous nature is perhaps Picnic at Hanging Rock’s most entrancing element.

Weir’s tale of mystery and intrigue is owed to Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel of the same name. Weir brings to life the fictional events through stunning beautiful shots that adds mystery and intrigue to every scene. There’s a realism in Weir’s imagery. He creates a visually haunting tale through off-kilter angles and up-close tracking shots that follow characters as they weave through the maze of the rock. A portent atmosphere permeates the film. Extreme low angles and 360 shots disorients the geography while Russell Boyers’s cinematography adds a soft, sensuality to the screen flattering the already gorgeous landscapes and actress Anne-Louise Lambert as Miranda, a beloved student who’s disappearance directly effects a headmistress and orphan student, Sara. Every clue that we are given, every character we meet, every event that takes place in the school afterwards is only an appendage of the body of mysterious intrigue that further kindles the fire of theories of what could be.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (19

The theories that one creates in their head out of a desperate need to solve the fictional cliffhanger enrapts viewers with the film even if Picnic at Hanging Rock does feel a tad too contrived and awkward in execution. The possibilities of what happened to the girls is endless. We are hinted at foul play from two onlookers. There’s allusions to a supernatural affect of the rock itself that seems to possess the girls with faintness and exhaustion. The mystery is further solidified when one of the girls tells police what she saw on her way down the rock. The film’s focus even shifts to the true nature of the school’s headmistress who is left to pick up the pieces and keep the school running. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a film for Area 54 conspires and Bermuda Triangle enthusiasts. If you enjoy conspiracy and mystery to the backdrop of the 1900s complete with stunning costumes and hair design, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a must see of Australian New Wave cinema.

SEE IT. If shows like the “The Leftovers” and “Lost” are your forte, then this should be a breeze.

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