- Movie Rating -

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975); ★★1/2

| February 2, 1979

I want to love Picnic at Hanging Rock so much that it hurts.  Here is a strange Australian drama that spools out such a tasty and intriguing mystery that I want to give the movie a favorable review almost on the premise alone, but I can’t.  While the story is absolutely absorbing, it is marred by the fact that it runs on too long, has too much music, too many sound effects, too many characters and never lets its great mystery simmer.

Okay, I am getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start over.  Picnic at Hanging Rock tells the story of a group of young girls who have been attending the Appleyard Girls’ Private School in Victoria, Australia who go on a day’s outing at Hanging Rock.  It is 1900 and it is Valentine’s Day, and during this outing the girls read their Valentine’s Day cards.  At the stroke of 12, one of the chaperones notices that his watch has stopped.  The girls go to explore the geological formation known as Hanging Rock, enter into it’s craggy rock face and are never seen again.

What happened to the girls is never really explained, only speculated.  After the disappearance, one of the missing girls reemerges but she has no memory of what happened.  Trying to return to a sense of normalcy, she finds herself a pariah of the community as her classmates assume that she does remember what happened but won’t say.

Those elements work beautifully.  The story that is offered here held me in its spell.  Yet, my problem with Picnic at Hanging Rock is in the execution.  The mystery of these girls is best felt rather than heard.  Eerie silences echo the unanswered questions that never seem to yield and answer.  The problem is that director Peter Weir allows the movie to be filled with so much music and so many sound effects that it distracts from that core of silence.  The strange and unsetting feeling that comes with the sudden, unexplained disappearance of a person, or persons, is a devastating experience, but Weir’s film never really gets there.  Yes, the mystery is intriguing but the filmmaking craft overwhelms our ability to contemplate.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Drama
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