There are five words in the English language that when strung together instantly build a mysterious attraction when they’re attached to a work of art, or literature. They’re not inherently important or powerful words, but their presence alongside a particular work gets used repeatedly as a means to increase whatever importance or effect that piece would receive by a given audience on its own. They’re a proverbial shortcut to accentuating a natural reaction. Those words are; based, on, a, true, story.
In the case of Peter Weir’s adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel “Picnic at Hanging Rock” the film opens with a brief written prologue about how three girls from a private boarding school disappeared while on a trip to a geological site, known as Hanging Rock, on Valentine’s Day in the year 1900. From there the film lets you decide on your own whether you want to believe you’re watching a story based on a real mysterious tragedy from 1900, or complete fiction. What sets Picnic at Hanging Rock apart from most films that are allegedly non-fictitious is that its effect on the viewer is not affected by whether they feel the events are true or false.