Directed by: Colin Eggleston, Starring: John Hargreaves, Briony Behets. Horror. Australia 1978, 95mins, Cert 15.
Released on Blu-ray in the UK on 5th November 2018 by Second Sight Films.
Released in 1978 (a year after THE DAY OF THE ANIMALS), Director Colin Eggleston's eco-horror is now considered a cult classic. Written by Everett De Roche, who in addition to penning a glossier remake in 2008, also wrote the animal-centric 80's horrors of RAZORBACK(giant wild boar), LINK (super-intelligent murderous orangutan), and other notable Ozploitation offerings such as PATRICK (1978), HARLEQUIN (1980) and ROAD GAMES (1981), it unquestionably has genre pedigree.
Unhappily married couple Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) abandon the urban city jungle for a make or break long weekend away in the wilderness at a remote beach location. Far from being one with nature, Marcia is not the outdoor type and makes it crystal clear she'd rather spend the weekend at a luxury hotel. Peter is oblivious to the impact he has on the environment, staggeringly blasé and ignorant to the flora and fauna he encounters. Eventually, their respective transgressions against Mother Nature provoke violent karma, and she begins to fight back...
Peter and Marcia are an intensely unlikeable couple and their constant sniping and bickering signposts to an unsalvageable marriage. Their blatant disregard and deep-seated resentment towards each other is fuelled by an extra-marital affair and a resultant abortion which festers away poisoning their relationship. This mutual vitriol manifests not only in how they treat each other but also in how they react to their natural surroundings, often destructively lashing out in unwarranted acts of aggression and cruelty. The film is loaded with (over)ripe symbolism to this effect. Marcia discovers an eagle's egg ("We can make an omelette!" suggests Peter) before eventually hurling it against a tree extinguishing the life growing inside in a fit of anger. This results in Peter being attacked by the understandably distraught mother eagle. Peter's drunken haphazard firing of his rifle (born out of pent-up frustration as Marcia doesn't wish to resume sexual relations with him) brings about the death of a mother duck as we zoom in on her confused chicks. (Marcia, for her part, prefers instead to masturbate to a Harold Robbins novel). Peter also shoots a harmless Dugong which in turn also appears to have a grieving calf judging by the haunting cries echoing across the beach at night. It's also no coincidence their coastal retreat is located near an abattoir – a detail which takes on greater significance in the film's denouement.
Peter especially is a one-man catalyst of natural destruction. Before he has even arrived at the intended campsite destination, he has already managed to start a roadside fire with a discarded cigarette butt and callously run over a kangaroo which acts as a foreshadowing moment. Upon arrival, he immediately proceeds to start axing away at a nearby tree, when asked by Marcia as to why he replies: "Why not?" Marcia for her part happily sprays insecticide on ants which are only attracted to the food which she's left out to rot in the sun.
There's a potentially disturbing plot strand involving another apparent family of visitors further down the beach which isn't fully explored and a suggestion that the locals aren't the most welcoming towards tourists, to the point where they deny the existence of the beach when Peter mentions it in the roadside bar. But it's Mother Nature that Peter and Marcia really need to be concerned about.
It's significant that the majority of creatures which Peter and Marcia encounter (except for a reasonably scary looking large spider and a potentially harmful snake), are benign and non-predatory. A Tasmanian devil, koala, and a possum – not to mention a Dugong (sea-cow) are hardly deadly which implies that if even these gentle beings can get riled up by Peter and Marcia, then they really are out of sync with the natural order and invite judgement upon themselves. The actual attack scenes are brief and not overly convincing (although I've never seen a possum look quite so baleful). Instead, director Eggleston wisely racks up the implied sense of threat by employing a soundscape littered with jarring and effectively unsettling foley work with animal screeches and cries, and judicious foliage rustling.
Cinematographer Vincent Monton's POV shots crawling through the grass coupled with high angled omnipotent shots look down as if the camera were a predatory vulture hovering in judgement further enhances the ominous mood.
Shot in anamorphic widescreen on location in Bournda Nature Reserve, the wide-open compositions reiterate the displacement and isolation of the characters and emphasises how small and insignificant they are beyond their poisonous domestic bubble.
It's a measured downbeat film which lacks the crowd-pleasing attack sequences of more exploitatative B-movie treatments of the natural horror genre. It's therefore not much of a stretch to see why domestic audiences didn't initially embrace a film which has a subtext about white colonialism at its heart and runs over a kangaroo.
Extras: audio commentary, a panel discussion with film historians including Lee Gambin, author of ‘Massacred by Mother Nature', cast and crew interviews, trailer and stills gallery.
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