Many horror movies claim to be based on a true story. Most of the time, the actual link with real events is weak at best. And when a film tries to retain its accuracy, it’s difficult to do so without becoming more of a documentary than a feature film.
On occasion a film manages to remain factual whilst being entertaining, and other films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock are a casserole of fact, fiction and surreal imagery which hope to interest and entertain the viewer. Unfortunately on this occasion, it ends up being a pretty confusing experience.
Set in Australia in 1900, we’re introduced to a girls finishing school in Australia. One hot day, a party of girls with two teachers and a coachman set off to see a local geological site – a group of tall rocks that reach upward out of the ground like a fragmented mountain.
As soon as the party arrives at the site it’s obvious that there is something strange about the place. Pocket watches stop working and a group of 4 girls decide that they want to investigate the area away from the group.
Before long it’s time to return to the boarding school but when one of the four girls returns to the coach screaming, panic sets in.
3 girls and 1 teacher are lost at the site and no amount of searching seems to help.
There are curious circumstances, suspicious witnesses and other confusing dynamics that reveal themselves as the search for the missing females goes on. Was there some sort of terrible accident? Were the girls a victim of some sort of attack, or is there a supernatural reason for their disappearance?
Is it a horror? Well, that’s debatable. It’s not a nice tale, and involves some pretty strange goings on. Plus, people died, or at least probably died or got abducted by aliens. Either way, it’s still only a PG.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is seen by many as a ‘classic’ and is very much a film of its time. There’s no doubt that when it was made back in the 1970’s it was popular and seen by many to be a haunting tale. It’s artistically shot, and great efforts have been made to emphasise the mystery of the events that apparently took place.
But whereas many classic horror films of this period retain their magnetism, Picnic at Hanging Rock seems not to have fared so well.
Parts that attempt to be spooky are more surreal and strange, and the moments that require the most impact are let down with poor special effects and bizarre music, both of which no longer have the effect that they once did. At times you may feel as if you’re watching a parody of a 70’s film, rather than an a serious attempt at one.
It’s hard to judge such things by todays standards as so much has changed where fear in film is concerned. Many movies from a similar period (The Wicker Man, 1973, for instance) are remembered as being very effective at scaring people, but much of what makes them scary is the re-connecting of old feelings in the mind of the viewer from when the film was first watched.
If you were to show The Wicker man to a 1990’s born, Saw fed horror movie connoisseur, it’s unlikely that they would be very affected by it.
And perhaps that’s the problem. Is a lesser known vintage film going to have much of an impact on modern audiences anymore?
Picnic at Hanging Rock was somehow interesting. You may feel gripped by the story and need to watch it to the end in order to find out what happened to those women at that strange place. But it’s in the same way that you would need to watch the end of a documentary. It’s the desire to find the answers that gets you, not the engaging story or the way in which it’s presented.
There will be people that this film appeals to. If you’re a fan of cinema from this period and want to experience it in restored High Definition, then this could be quite a treat.
But beyond that I’d be surprised if there is much interest from the mainstream audience that would need way more guts, gore and scantily clad ladies to keep its interest.
Frustratingly, the actual mystery was never solved, so Picnic at Hanging Rock won’t really offer you any answers, darn it.