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An idyllic summer picnic for a group of boarding school girls turns into a baffling nightmare in Picnic at Hanging Rock, the 1975 feature film by Australian director Peter Weir, based on the eponymous novel by Joan Lindsay.
Valentine’s Day, 1900
It’s Valentine’s Day, a hot and cloudless day, when a horse drawn carriage drops off students at Hanging Rock, a magnificent and imposing geological formation that was formed “barely a million years ago,” according to their mathematics teacher. This special field trip ends in disaster when the math teacher and three young students mysteriously vanish into thin air at the site.
The film surveys what happens to those who remain after the disappearances. Fruitless searches for the missing are set in motion. The headmistress sees a dwindling enrollment, and starts drinking. Students act out. Local boys become obsessed with the case, and start their own investigation.
“Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.”--Miranda
From the beginning, there’s foreshadowing that something awful is going to happen. Everything looks extremely lovely at the school, and it's Valentine's Day, which incites so much anticipation and excitement.
And yet, cryptic dialogue sneaks in here and there. Characters take on spacey, far-off expressions. It almost seems like destiny—but whether it’s propelled by natural forces at Hanging Rock or human will is ambiguous. It’s this element of slow, creeping dread that overwhelms everyone (viewer included) and makes this a masterful horror film. There’s no violence, gore, or blood. Again, this movie is absolutely beautiful, with its lovely landscapes, actors, music, and award-winning cinematography. But it’s the unseen at Hanging Rock that drives everyone insane.
Maybe it's not the most romantic Valentine's Day movie choice, but it's an intriguing classic for mystery fans who don't mind a bit of a fright.
Watch the Trailer
Karen Choy is the Youth Services Librarian in Half Moon Bay. She likes that the film begins with lines from "Dream Within a Dream" by Edgar Allan Poe.