A bickering married couple (John Hargreaves and Briony Behets) go on a camping holiday at a remote beach. As all of their grievances with one another are aired, the environment around them seems to both confuse and increasingly frighten them. Since Hargreaves is the type of guy to freely litter and senselessly chop down trees for the hell of it, perhaps nature is about to bite them back. Killing that poor dugong probably wasn’t a smart idea, Mr. Hargreaves.
One of the more highly-regarded ‘Ozploitation’ films (mostly outside of Australia, though), this 1978 film from director Colin Eggleston and writer Everett De Roche (who scribed “Razorback” and “Roadgames”) is better than the awful 2008 remake (And they are so similar that comparisons are inevitable), but still can’t escape its two unlikeable central characters. The two films are very similar (De Roche scripted the remake), but this one comes out a bit better than the remake, which I saw first. Perhaps De Roche’s contribution is the weakest element, then. It’s certainly more effectively creepy than the remake (the sense of paranoia is certainly stronger), and that doesn’t come from the screenplay but the atmosphere created by the director, and cinematographer Vincent Monton (“Roadgames”, “Snapshot”). Or perhaps it’s mostly just that the original works better because it was original, the faithful remake seems rather pointless.
There’s plenty of unsettling, foreboding shots of scenery and shrubbery at the outset, but also harsh, bare rock. The night scenes are dark without being hard to see, which is crucial. We also have lots of lovely Australian fauna on display- Tassie Devils, Wallabies, Koalas, etc. Monton’s work in capturing all of this, really does elevate the film. Yes, the remake had nice cinematography too, but maybe not quite as good as this (Monton served as 2nd Unit Director on the remake, by the way). The music score by Michael Carlos is pretty good value too, helping create the mood and atmosphere here.
The characters’ wastefulness and ill-treatment of the land and its creatures is heavy-handed, but handled a bit better than in the remake, where it was eye-rolling stuff. Hell, even the characters are afforded an extra dimension this time out. They are ultimately still the film’s greatest flaw, but this time out at least they don’t hate each other irrationally the entire time, there are moments of obvious harmony here and there. Also, one medical issue present in both films is handled better this time out, partly due to Briony Behets’ performance, but also because it works better for a film made in 1978 than a film in 2008, where the outrage over such an issue tends to be more politically-motivated confected outrage than genuine as it might’ve been in the 70s. The central performances by John Hargreaves and Briony Behets are indeed better than their 2008 counterparts, a little nuance is allowed in from time to time, though Behets’ sulky facial expression gets a little tiresome after a while.
But ultimately, I just find it hard to watch a film centred around two a-holes who are unhappy together but stay together anyway. There’s limited appeal for me in that. I think De Roche has missed the boat here in not giving us another couple of genuinely likeable characters to go along with these two jerks. The film can still play out largely the same, but with at least two people to genuinely root for. A shame. Character really is key, I keep telling you.
Well-made in some respects, and a bit better than the remake, but I can’t really recommend this film when I loathed the remake. I mean, it’s not that much different. Personally I’d recommend just watching the trailer on YouTube. It’s one of the all-time great trailers and better than the film itself.