Keen as it looks, a spanking Blu-ray upgrade can’t clarify the murky enigmas in Peter Weir’s insinuating second feature. On Valentine’s Day, 1900, three prim schoolgirls and a teacher disappear near an eerie natural landmark. One reappears but knows nothing; the fallout ripples through their community.
We never find out what happened and commentators on this disc’s ample extras – including the source novel’s author, Joan Lindsay – strive to muddy its fact/fiction origins. The tale isn’t true, but Picnic resonates like some half-remembered childhood fable, thickened over time by subtext and suggestion.
Picnic might be elusive but it isn’t slight. Underlying conflicts mount: Victorian repression against liberation, the security of school against the snakes and poisonous ants of nature, conformity against rebellion, innocence against the promise/threat of experience.
Weir’s immersive direction gives vivid voice to the contrasts between Martindale Hall’s dreamy half-life and the dread-shrouded Rock, where ambient sound and lowering sky make nature seem alive: eco-horror as art.
Weir has made other films about community, repression and the risks entailed by freedom (The Truman Show, Fearless). But he’s never made a film so uncanny – he admits on the extras that he wouldn’t dare make another “mystery without a solution”.
For the superior director’s cut offered here, he chopped material he thought too “obvious”. In fact, at 125 minutes, the disc’s exemplary making-of doc A Dream Within A Dream now exceeds Picnic’s length. But its lingering power feeds on an old but potent principle: less is more.