The Snowtown Murders
Directed by Justin Kurzel, Written by Shaun Grant, Starring Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall and Louise Harris
Fandango Synopsis - Elizabeth Harvey is raising her three boys in Adelaide’s poor northern suburbs. After her latest boyfriend displays pedophilic tendencies she takes up with a new man, hoping for security but instead winds up welcoming an even more vicious predator into her home. John Bunting is the moral compass among a circle of friends who hold self-appointed neighborhood watch meetings at the kitchen table. Fueled by cigarettes and beer they cast judgments on those living around them. Bunting enlists his crew in acts of sadistic vigilantism on those he considers deviants takes Elizabeth’s son Jamie under his wing. In a mix of misdirected hero worship and terror, Jamie becomes an accomplice to a spree of torture and murder.
My Thoughts - If THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS wasn’t depicting mostly true events, I’m not sure if it’d be worth enduring as a film. I doubt I’d have watched it. The fact is that these events did happen and while the film is vile, extremely disturbing visually and psychologically and dealing with some evil individuals, it’s a story interesting enough to tell and a very good film as a whole.
There are a couple of components that make this more than a middle of the road film, one being Justin Kurzel’s directing. This is Kurzel’s first feature film, but when viewing you get no indication he is anything but an experienced, talented and confident director who knows exactly what he wants. The film obviously has a low budget and no stars in the cast, but there is nothing amateur about it. It’s most unnerving during a number of the murder scenes where Kurzel keeps you slightly back from the “action”, shooting it from another room with an often still camera. It feels uncomfortably real, as if you are there eavesdropping on the horrific events. Kurzel never shies away from the brutality, never cuts away, thus never giving the audience a chance to remove themselves from the acts and reassure themselves “it’s just a movie”.
The other special piece to THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS is Daniel Henshaw’s great performance as John Bunting, the man known as Australia’s worst serial killer. I can’t say whether it’s an accurate depiction, but it’s definitely a fucked portrait of this guy. Bunting comes across as this sweet, roly poly guy, always with a sunny, childlike smile on his face. He quickly enters this dysfunctional family’s picture, assumes the father role to the four boys and seems he could be the steadying force they desperately need. Then you start to get the glimpses of how disturbed Bunting is. He’s a master of psychological manipulation and a really evil man. His desire for intense eye contact may be his most offputting attribute of all. The odd thing is that he doesn’t come across as a master criminal at all, because he allows his pride to dictate his actions and he’s pretty sloppy about his “work”, just banking on no one caring enough about his victims to seek the answers to what happened.
THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS is a bleak bleak film without a single ray of hope. Jamie, played very well by Lucas Pittway is the protagonist of the story and the kid Bunting focuses most on, taking him under his wing. Bunting is grooming Jamie in his image by way of some intense psychological manipulation that is hard to watch. Jamie has no hope and not many options other than to follow Bunting’s lead. All of these characters are living and operating in a dirt poor area invested with crime and drugs. It’s exactly the the type of place people like to turn away from and pretend doesn’t exist. Bunting is able to take advantage of all of that. It’s a heartbreakingly sad situation and story.
It may be a product of me viewing this late at night or a choice by the filmmakers, but I wasn’t always clear on who they killed and who they didn’t. I also didn’t always know the motives, but that may be partly due to it being Jamie’s story rather than Bunting’s. In reading some information on the murders after viewing the film, I was able to gain a little more understanding of the big picture and the who’s and some why’s.
I’m not sure who exactly THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS is for, but I think it’s a very good film that I’d recommend if you think you can handle it. I really look forward to seeing what director Kurzel and actor Henshaw offer up going forward.
My Rating : 7/10
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