Peter Weir greatly improved upon Joan Lindsay's novel of like name (in particular by choosing not to follow her storyline to its controversial "closed secret" ending) in this brilliantly-shot, capably-acted and at times intensely spooky story from 1975. A slow, quiet film, noted for the "intoxicated/otherworldly" quality of some of its imagery, Picnic at Hanging Rock helped establish Weir's reputation on an international scale.
On Saint Valentine's Day, 1900, an outing from Appleyard College, near Victoria, Australia, sets in motion a maddening psychological mystery which follows the disappearance of several schoolgirls in the midst of a picnic at the foot of a famed geological formation locally called Hanging Rock. The girls, led the popular Miranda (played by the strikingly beautiful Anne-Louise Lambert) set off on foot to climb the rock and shortly after reaching the summit of the structure, seemingly vanish from the face of the earth. Weeks of investigation by police and searches by hundreds of locals fail to turn up either the missing girls or any evidence that might suggest an explanation for what may have befallen them. As this frustratingly impossible mystery intrudes into the inner landscapes of those at the college and the local community as a whole, life attempts to continue for those who knew the missing students. Gradually and by degrees the incident at the rock changes (and ruins?) many at the college and beyond, most especially the institution's beleaguered headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard, who takes to drink, and becomes increasingly dictatorial.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is among the more hypnotic motion pictures ever made, and a viewer is soon lulled into a physically relaxed but mentally heightened state as the perplexing turn of events onscreen weaves a dense spell. The scenery Weir employs is simply striking, be it manmade or the natural majesty of the simultaneously immense and claustrophobic Hanging Rock itself. Striking also is the memorable soundtrack, worth listening to in its own right, with Bruce Smeaton's work achieving a near-perfect marriage of sound to image.
Some may react strongly to the conclusion of the film, which I won't further comment on here, but I can't imagine anyone would walk away from Picnic at Hanging Rock feeling unimpressed. It is worth seeing, and if you can find it, worth owning.