Oh Australia, you are a most confusing land!
Screenplay By: Cliff Green
Directed By: Peter Weir
Before I watched Picnic At Hanging Rock my wife said that everything she read about the film said it wasn’t really a horror movie. As I watched the film with my wife she flat out stated she didn’t understand how the film could be thought of as horror. I took some time to think about what she said, as well as the general idea that Picnic At Hanging Rock is not a horror movie. The conclusion I came to was that Picnic At Hanging Rock is very much a horror movie, but a very unique horror movie.
Outward violence, buckets of blood, gore, suspense, nor scary moments are found in Picnic At Hanging Rock. There isn’t even a hint of implied violence, buckets of blood, gore, suspense, or scary moments in the traditional way those elements would be implied during a horror movie. There is suspense, there is possible violence, there is some blood, and in lieu of scary there is an ominous presence.
The horror of Picnic At Hanging Rock is present in the ominous score, the looming rocks of the Hanging Rock location, and the unknown of what just did happen to the missing girls. Peter Weir doesn’t supply a single answer, nor doe he worry about possible solutions. The problem he sets up is a simple one, but yet he provides no simple way out of the problem. There is something afoot, I think anyone viewing Picnic At Hanging Rock can pick that much up. However, what is afoot is never given away visually or in any bit of dialogue. These leaves the audience in the dark and it creates the sort of horror that is hard to recognize.
This is where the score and the visual presentation of the film come into play. The score is, as I said, quite ominous. The music of Bruce Smeaton edges in from the dark corners of the mind. It hints at dark happenings and bad tidings. The film refuses to provide actual proof of these dark happenings and bad tidings, and that only serves to make the music even more effective. Accompanying the deliciously dark score is the visual eye of Mr. Weir. The key example of his foreboding and menacing visual style is Hanging Rock itself. When characters are in that area the film takes on a misty effect. Waves of invisible dread wash over the screen and take over the characters in a way we know is most evil. The rock itself looms in the background, it is so natural that the Victorian dressed girls can only look unnatural in its company.
Mr. Weir’s film touches on a lot of ideas. Repressed sexuality, the contrast of society versus nature, and the fear of the unknown chief among those ideas. Picnic At Hanging Rock has an ethereal, almost otherworldly, quality. It’s not a movie driven by plot or any traditional story mechanisms. This unique Australian experience is just that, an experience of the unknown that is drenched in dread and atmosphere. There is no doubt in my mind that Picnic At Hanging Rock is a horror movie, and a grand horror movie at that.