A classic Australian mystery/drama film, released in 1975 and directed by Peter Weir.Set in 1900 and based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock tells the story of an ill-fated outing undertaken by Australian schoolgirls enrolled at an exclusive finishing school. Students of Appleyard College are permitted to spend Valentine's Day at Hanging Rock, collecting information for an essay to be written upon their return. After being granted permission by their French mistress, Miranda, Marion, Irma and Edith set off to explore the upper slopes of the rock. Wandering through the maze-like tunnels, Edith discovers that the others appear to have fallen into a trance; the trio have, as one, removed their shoes and stockings, and proceed to drift into another narrow passage. Fearful, Edith runs back to fetch help, Mathematics mistress Miss McCraw heading up to fetch them. However, teacher and students disappear without a trace.The film features visually hypnotic photography by Oscar winner Russel Boyd and a haunting score by Bruce Smeaton, and established Weir as a major International talent.
This film provides examples of:
Animal Motifs: In Michael's dreams Miranda is represented by a swan. Insects also appear at several key points, from the ants devouring the leftover Valentine's cake to the praying mantis seen after Sara's suicide.
Based on a Great Big Lie: It's almost guaranteed that anytime the film/book is brought up/read/watched, someone's going to claim it actually happened. It didn't.
Lady in Red: Irma when she last visits the school. Whatever happens at Hanging Rock seems to have something to do with the girls' blooming sexuality. Irma, the only one of the four to be found, wears a scarlet dress upon her return, in contrast to the drab outfits of the girls that study there.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the book, odd things happen with time during the picnic. No one's watch works correctly. Things take longer than they should or happen much more quickly than seems possible. None of it is so far out there that it is unrealistic, but it is just weird enough for the audience to consider the possibility that the supernatural may have been involved in the girls' disappearance. This is pushed firmly into supernatural territory by The Secret of Hanging Rock, as summarized here.
Police Are Useless: While Sergeant Bumpher and his deputies provide a very thorough investigation, ultimately they're as baffled as anyone about the disappearances.
Re Cut: Weir's director's cut removes a few scenes. (Sadly, only the director's cut is available in America, one of the few times The Criterion Collection has really dropped the ball. Many viewers find the original theatrical cut to be superior.)
Revised Ending: The novel's final chapter was deleted, then published separately in 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock.
And if you thought the story was a Mind Screwbefore...