‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ Review: Overlong and Overplotted, Amazon’s Gorgeous Adaptation Can’t Recapture the Magic

IndieWire | 5/25/2018 | Staff
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Joan Lindsay’s novel “Picnic at Hanging Rock” was a mere 212 pages when first printed in 1967. Peter Weir’s 1975 movie of the same name clocked in under two hours (115 minutes). Both have been praised for their mysterious takes on the story of four women who disappear in the Australian bush — the novel for framing the events as a true story (it wasn’t) and the film for its challenging, open-ended conclusion, among other attributes for both.

The new TV adaptation builds on many of these same traits, but a funny thing happens when you try to elongate a surreal horror story by providing explicit details: It gets boring. In extending the length to a six-hour limited series, Amazon’s 2018 version loses much of the original works’ imaginative appeal even while providing added agency to its characters. Each of the key students at Mrs. Hester Appleyard’s (Natalie Dormer) school (as well as the headmistress herself) are better defined and given explicit motivations. But the structure — first set up their disappearance, then provide context for each character via flashback — prohibits any emotional investment in the missing girls, or at least enough emotional investment to sustain interest beyond the first episode.

Picnic - Hanging - Rock - Ethereal - Dreamlike

The new “Picnic at Hanging Rock” is too long, too slow, and too torn between presenting an ethereal dreamlike world filled with symbolism of repressed sexuality and providing a concrete mystery to be solved. It wants to have it both ways and ends up succeeding at neither. The mystery is too stretched out and the setting’s surreal beauty is too often spoiled by narrative anchors to reality.

The plot remains simple and largely unchanged from past iterations: Four girls go missing from a group picnic, and a search begins to find them. The major change is that there’s more than one...
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