Staff Reviews: Snowtown by Natasha Linford, Screen Lounge Assistant

Justin Kurzel’s feature debut follows the true-life crimes of Australia’s serial killer John Bunting, played brilliantly by Daniel Henshall. Snowtown is not your typical crime-drama, Kurzel achieves striking effects and an engaging narrative in each scene by allowing the film to gradually unfold in a series of images and transitions. Rather than simply telling us the facts, he exposes them to the audience in piece-meal fashion and leaves us questioning every detail.

The film opens by setting the scene of a bleak, deprived neighbourhood in Southern Australia, focusing on one family in particular. The harsh social realities are immediately impressed upon us as when the mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harvey) goes on a date, leaving her sons in the responsibility of a neighbour, they are sexually molested. There is vulnerability and helplessness within the boys, emphasized when the neighbour photographs them, capturing an innocence which is rapidly deteriorating due to their seemingly inescapable position. 

As Snowtown develops we are introduced to the character John (Henshall) who, with his charming, charismatic persona at first appears to be a knight in shining armour on a mission to turn the lives of this family around, offering a father figure for the children and a partner for the mother. This role model figure is especially affected upon Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) a teenager, struggling to grow up in an environment of sexual abuse and mistrust (we later learn that his older step-brother bullies and rapes him.)

Clearly this is not an easy watch, yet Kurzel has created a film that is as thought provoking as it is shocking. John’s sociopathic motives become entwined with Jamie’s desperate vulnerability as John’s grooming of him escalates from attempting to emasculate him and helping him stand up to his oppressors to making him an unwilling accomplice to his murderous crimes. One of the most disturbing aspects of the film is John’s infiltration of an already victimized community; he becomes the voice of the neighbourhood, as during evening meetings he rouses animosity against different minorities, calling for action against homosexuals and drug addicts whom he believes to be impingements upon society. He believes that his extreme actions are justified as he is undertaking a cleansing of society, viewing certain individuals as worth no more than the animals that he hacks up.

The sound design of the film is extremely effective in creating the intense atmosphere and unsettling viewing experience that this film provokes, unpleasant sounds such as the squelching of kangaroo guts in a bucket or the scratching on lino of a dying dog add to a feeling of intimate, closed in involvement. The film is also cut with the sound recordings John forces his victim to create before murdering them and leaving them as telephone voice-mails.

This film is not for the faint hearted, with certain scenes proving difficult to watch as they show images of extreme brutality, torture and violence. However, I would nevertheless highly recommend it as a compelling and powerful watch that despite dealing with such horrific subject matter, is shot beautifully and will leave you thinking for a long time afterwards.

Natasha works at Phoenix Square front of house in the cafe/bar. She is in her final year of an English and American studies degree. She thoroughly enjoys most things which are deep fried.

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