Today I am watching the 1975 Australian movie, Picnic at Hanging Rock. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay and is a movie I have wanted to watch for a while.
My understanding of Picnic at Hanging Rock is that this is a mystery/drama. The film tells the tale of three school students and their teacher, who go missing under mysterious circumstances while on a day trip.
Directed by Peter Weir, Picnic at Hanging Rock is highly regarded by film critics and is often cited as a standout out example of Australian cinema. This is a film that I’ve had on my ‘watch list’ for far too long, so I am pleased I am finally getting around to watching it.
Will I agree with the critical consensus about Picnic at Hanging Rock? Will I enjoy the mystery?
Let’s find out.
Watching Picnic at Hanging Rock
15secs – Straight out of the gate, some on-screen text has appeared, explaining that in 1900, a group of girls went on a picnic and disappeared. This piece of text – the first thing to appear on screen – gives the impression this film is based on a true story. Just to be clear, Picnic at Hanging Rock is not based on a true story, but this is certainly a good way to frame the movie.
Similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (released a year prior to Hanging Rock), the film is using the illusion of reality to engage with the audience. If the events in the film appear real, then the audience feel like they have more of an investment in the story.
30secs – I must add though, at no point does the text say “based on a true story”. So, if you read this on-screen text, then automatically believe Picnic at Hanging Rock to be based on a true story, then that’s because YOU have made that connection. The movie leads you in this direction, but it is ultimately you who is buying into the idea this is some kind of reconstruction. Very clever.
5mins – There is a certain ethereal feel to Picnic at Hanging Rock. I like it.
6mins – Oh, and I should say this is a period piece. As noted in the on-screen text, this film is set in 1900.
9mins – Hang on, is that Vivean Gray playing Miss McCraw?
9mins 45secs – It is Vivean Gray!
10mins – For those not familiar with Gray by name, the actress played the iconic role of Mrs. Mangel in the Aussie soap, Neighbours. If you ask any longtime Neighbours fan to list the show’s iconic characters, I guarantee Mrs. Mangel would be in the Top 5.
10mins 30secs – Interesting side note. Despite Mrs. Mangel’s popularity, Gray was only in the soap for two years, appearing between 1986 and 1988. I know you didn’t come here for my knowledge of Neighbours, but you’re sure as heck leaving with it!
11mins – So, a group of school girls and their teacher are taking a trip to Hanging Rock, in order to have a picnic. Even though the on-screen text has made it clear that something strange is going to happen, I am getting this vibe anyway from the lighting, the music, and the general atmosphere.
15mins – This film is very eerie. Also, is it important that one of the girls from the school, a girl called Sara, wasn’t allowed to go on the trip. I feel like this will be important later.
18mins 50secs – OK, here we have the first real hint that something odd is happening. The coach driver and Miss McCraw have both noted their watches have stopped. Both of the watches stopped at around 12pm, which is unusual.
19mins – It is being suggested the watches could have stopped a couple of hours ago, and it is likely to be at least 2pm now. In truth, without the correct time there is no way to tell if it is 2pm or not.
20mins – Introducing something as simple as stopped watches is a clever way to sell the central mystery, as it makes the audience ask questions. Why did the watches stop? Did they stop when the group first arrived at the rock, or did the watches stop earlier?
The incident also helps to create an ambiguous time period during this trip. So, when the disappearances occur in a short while, it will become difficult to pinpoint when the event took place.
21mins – Four of the girls have gone off to explore Hanging Rock. I’m not sure I trust these girls.
25mins – I’m 25 minutes in and I’m a little creeped out. I don’t know if these girls are witches, or Satanists, or simply just school girls. Something is amiss and I’m second-guessing everything.
26mins – By the way, this film is noted as being influential to the work of director, Sofia Coppola; in particular her movie The Virgin Suicides (1999). I can see the connection, but I am also getting Blair Witch Project vibes. Surely Coffin Rock from The Blair Witch Project (1999) is a nod to Hanging Rock, right?
31mins 30secs – The girls are acting very strange. Well, three of them are anyway. One of them isn’t. Have they been drugged? Are they pretending to act weird?!
WHY CAN’T I STOP ASKING QUESTIONS?!
34mins 30secs – Three of the girls appear to be in a trance-like state and make their way further up the rock. This is some spooky shit.
35mins – The only girl not to be in trance is acting freaked out. Understandable. But is this all just an act? Is she going to be involved in the disappearance of the other girls?
39mins – Hours have passed and everyone returns to the school, except for the three girls who were in a trance, and Miss McCraw. McCraw has disappeared too, which seems highly suspicious to me.
44mins – I’m guessing that Vivean Gray won’t be in the rest of this movie. I’m guessing this means I no longer have an excuse to impart Neighbours trivia on you. Damn.
46mins – A brief journey back to Hanging Rock has not turned over any clues.
47mins – One thing I didn’t mention earlier, but it’s something which is now swirling around my head, is the clothing Miss McCraw was wearing. The girls were dressed in white, while McCraw was dressed in red.
White would suggest innocence and virginity. Red suggests something more dangerous, devilish or sinister.
I might be over reading this, but is McCraw more involved with the girls’ disappearance than it seems? Come to think of it, did her watch really stop, or was she lying? Hmm… much to ponder.
53mins – A week has passed and still no sign of the missing students or Miss McCraw. Meanwhile, I’m over here questioning everything about Miss McCraw – is she a Satanist?!
58mins – Putting aside the film for one moment, I must say there is something special about Australian cinema (as well as Aussie TV shows). Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a period of time (the 1980s/1990s) where Aussies were really making big strides in bringing film & TV to the world.
Perhaps it’s because Aussie content offers something a little different to the standard US and UK offerings.
Or perhaps it’s simply because I’m obsessed with BMX Bandits.
But in all seriousness, I do have a thing for Australia. I have never visited the country, but it is somewhere I would love to go, and I do find myself drawn to good Aussie movies and TV shows.
1hr 4mins – The mystery of the disappearing school girls continues and I have a strong feeling there is going to be no resolution.
1hr 6mins – Oh… one of the girls has been found. OK, I didn’t expect that.
1hr 18mins – Still no explanation as to what happened, but I’m now wondering if the incident has nothing to do with Miss McCraw. Perhaps this has something to do with the rock itself.
Am I to take it this film is exploring the mysteries of the Australian landscape? Is Picnic at Hanging Rock suggesting that Australia has many unexplained mysteries and Hanging Rock is one such tale?
Isn’t there some sort of supposed curse surrounding Uluru? If you take part of the rock you are cursed? Is Hanging Rock a play on this idea, that the land is powerful and deadly and not everyone understands it?
I appreciate I am asking a lot of questions here, and you are not obliged to respond (but you can in the comments, if you wish). This movie has got me thinking all kinds of things.
1hr 24mins – You know, if Picnic at Hanging Rock has a fault, I would say it lies in the second half of the film. The first half was very strong, but since the disappearance of the girls/Miss McCraw, the story has not been as compelling.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still holding my interest, but not quite in the same way as it did to begin with. It’s possible that I just want some kind of resolution.
1hr 30mins – All of the school girls are getting hysterical, as they are desperate to find out what happened at Hanging Rock.
Sorry, I think I lost it for a moment. I’m OK now.
1hr 30mins 30secs – Erm… why is Sara strapped to a wall?
1hr 31mins – I’ve not really mentioned Sara much during this discussion, but she is the girl that didn’t go on the trip to Hanging Rock.
I don’t think I have been paying enough attention to her story. I think I will have to revisit this film again, as there was some homosexual subtext between Sara and Miranda (one of the missing girls) and I’m wondering if it holds more significance to the incident at Hanging Rock.
1hr 33mins – While the disappearance of the students and Miss McCraw is the main focus, I should also point out this is not the only story taking place in this movie. The film also looks at the fallout from the girls’ disappearance and how it is impacting the financial stability of the school.
With students missing, and parents not keen to send their children to the school, the school is facing financial problems. And it is of grave concern to the Principal, Mrs. Appleyard.
This situation has also brought to light a problem with Sara’s education – namely that no one is currently paying for it. She’s going to have to go live in an orphanage.
1hr 42mins 30secs – Oh, Sara has just killed herself!
Erm… did she really kill herself or was her death made to look like suicide? Jeez, I have so many questions.
1hr 44mins – As Picnic at Hanging Rock draws to an end, a voice over explains that Mrs. Appleyard’s body was later found at the bottom of Hanging Rock.
The search for the missing girls/teacher also continued for a few years, but nothing came of it and they were never found.
Wow. So many questions, but wow. Picnic at Hanging Rock didn’t disappoint.
Was it perfect? No, and I believe many would watch the film and think it was either too slow or simply unsatisfying. But for me, this is a film which throws many irons into the fire, so there is plenty to grab on to for future viewings and I will watch this movie again.
I feel like there was plenty that I picked up on, or read into, yet so much that I didn’t. I also don’t have a solid line on what the heck happened (or what I think happened) to the girls.
I need to revisit the implied relationship with Sara and Miranda. Did this signify something greater in the story?
I also want to know more about why the watches stopped. Was it coincidence? Did the magnetic field of the rock disrupt time? Did the girls simply get lost in time?
Have I gone waaaaay too deep here?
As mentioned above, I can see The Blair Witch in this movie, as well as one or two other horror films, so it is clearly an influential piece for many horror directors. But is it a horror film? No.
I’m not entirely sure what Picnic at Hanging Rock is. It has shades of different genres, contains a plethora of ideas and concepts, and could be read in a variety of ways. It is also bloody good.
I would watch this movie again. I am also keen to read up on various theories about the picture, as I found it fascinating.
Glad I watched this one.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post about Picnic at Hanging Rock. If you are a fan of the film, you have seen it countless times, or you simply want to tell me your theories about the movie, please sound off in the comments section.
And don’t forget, for more content be sure to take a look around It’s A Stampede!, or check out the recommended reads below.
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- Remember the ‘Crocodile’ Dundee movie trailer that wasn’t a movie trailer?