Picnic At Hanging Rock
Streaming on Amazon Prime
Metadata: 2018 | TV-14 | 1 season, 6 episodes, ~50 minutes each
Genre: Well this depends on how you read the ending, but . . . either Period Drama/Mystery or Sci-Fi (Intrigued? You should be!)
Why I watched: Who wouldn't be hooked by the following title card, which rolls six-seconds into the first episode (while birds chirp delightfully in the background): "On St. Valentine's Day 1900, four young women vanished from a picnic at Hanging Rock"? That's right. This film starts with a literal cliffhanger. (Yes, I did just go there.)
You might also like: I hate to do this to you, but Handmaid's Tale is not a bad follow-up (or primer?) to Picnic at Hanging Rock. Disempowered women, oppression, etc., etc. Seasons 1 and 2 of Handmaid's are streaming on Hulu.
What to say about Picnic at Hanging Rock, without giving anything away . . . ? In short, this is the most bizarrely beautiful, nightmarish mystery that you will ever see. (Unless, of course, you saw the original 1975 film adaptation of Joan Lindsay's 1965 novel.) Set in Victorian-era Australia, the series shows more than it tells as it unravels the story of an all-girls boarding school run by the rigid and deceitful Miss Appleyard, played by a heartless-but-complex Margaery Tyrell Natalie Dormer. As advertised, four students and one teacher disappear. The rest is backstory, fallout, and buildup, equal parts police procedural, ghost story, tragedy, and historical fiction. Picnic grapples with repression, colonialism, intimacy, and class all while keeping you slightly nervous the whole time that the period drama world will collapse, and you'll find yourself in a horror film. (It never quite ventures into horror but jeez do things get suspenseful!)
Every frame of Picnic has been carefully blocked, giving the whole thing a painterly feel. (Which some critics found campy, but whatever, I liked it.) This is helped along by the supersaturated color throughout, with bright unnatural greens and yellows magnifying the strangeness of the fictional world and Australian bush. The horizon line frequently flips upside-down, and we'll follow a character's eye line only to suddenly be foisted into a birds' eye view. With camera angles as impossible as the timeline, the story starts with the end and ends where it starts: the picnic at Hanging Rock. What follows is a description of before and after the girls' disappearance, in no particular order, with the sound of a ticking clock throughout serving as a constant reminder of the slippage between past and present.
With frequent moments of silence, we learn as much about the girls from subtle glances and body language as we do from dialogue. (Of course we encourage you to watch everything we recommend, but you really do need to watch this show!) And even though the padding of six hours might have been a little much, Picnic has the stamina to remain both mystifying and visually stunning throughout. After finishing the series, I went back to rewatch the first episode and I still don't feel the kind of closure that I would usually hope for at the end of a binge. (Yes, I watched this whole thing in one day. No, I don't feel bad about it.) Still, I'm ok with the discomfort. Perhaps I, too, have fallen under the Hanging Rock's spell?
This is the kind of show you're going to want to debrief about afterward. Watching with a friend is encouraged. Or, just PM me after you're done so that we can talk theories (e.g., how the three girls' names, Marion, Miranda, and Irma, all start with the letters M-I-R-A?!).
There's so much more I want to say, but I don't want to give anything away. Just go watch it, ok? Ok.