At 119 minutes and with an emphasis on the nuances of the characters' relationships and psychology, Snowtown is what I'd call a simmering pot. Calling it a slow burner would imply there's some kind of climactic explosion at the conclusion, which there isn't. It's more a very chilling period, or a punch in the solar plexus that makes you bend double to muffle the pain of the impact. When the film closes and the credits roll, with a disconcertingly jaunty piece of music, you are left feeling cold and kind of derelict--something like the abandoned bank vault where all the bodies were stored alone and forgotten for so many years.
You know, thinking about it now I don't even know if I would call Snowtown a `horror' movie, because it certainly isn't a conventional one. There is very little gore aside from some severed kangaroo limbs (the noise that accompanies the image is even more disturbing) and a particularly gruelling torture scene which plays a pivotal part in the narrative--and it's because the film is not exploring body horror (despite the grisly subject matter), but psychological horror. Or, if this doesn't sound too pretentious, the many shifting faces of horror.
The thing with Snowtown is that it all takes place in this densely populated and moribund suburb of a major Australian city where crime is rife and the authorities don't care. In steps John Bunting, who in its despair and abandonment, the community scraping by on government benefits looks to as a leader, a dispenser of justice, and to the main character, a father figure. Charming and charismatic, John soon ingratiates himself into the heart of the community scarred by paedophilia and drug abuse. He champions ideologies which border on hypothetical lynch mob operations against those deemed morally corrupt. It becomes increasingly apparent, however, that John does not discriminate between paedophiles and homosexuals, obese people, drug addicts and the mentally handicapped. His highly amiable facade begins to crack and splinter, or maybe he's choosing to slip the mask off himself, giving glimpses of something truly monstrous lurking just below the surface. It is the insidiousness, the perniciousness, the snake-like perversion of domesticity which is horrifying.
John is like a black hole; as soon as he walks into the room you are sucked into him. He reflects no light, he is merciless, and yet he seems to seek approval from the 16 year old protagonist--the transformation of whom from timid victim to casual murderer is very unnerving. I'm always fascinated in situations like this when there is a pack of killers--because it definitely feels predatory and calculated in the extreme--by the bonds formed between them. Aren't they afraid of one another? Are they so removed from humanity they believe they are outside it, that they don't suspect they could fall victim to the same atrocities they are committing? How can they trust each other so? How does one get to that point where killing one's friend or brother or neighbour is second nature, is so callous it's almost banal?
The horror of it is the banality of the horror itself. Does that make sense? The fact that an entire community was aware to varying degrees of the atrocities unfolding, that so many people were complicit and did nothing, didn't question the abrupt messages left on answering machines by loved ones? There's a scene which sums up this centrifugal theme of evil finding its place in the home when the complicit characters walk twenty yards from a living room where a child sits watching TV to the backyard to a shed which contains corpses stuffed into bin bags.
There were a couple of points in the film when I thought `I can't watch this, I have to get out' because the level of reality was so claustrophobic and intense. But I persevered, stamping my feet and whimpering to compensate for the brutality of what I was witnessing, and the end left me utterly drained.
This is a very impressive piece of film-making on all fronts. Highly recommended, though not for the squeamish.
on 28 March 2012
Cripes, what a film. I only gave this a whirl as I do like Aussie films for their off-beat humour, kookiness, and the downright bizarre. Unfortunately, this really wasn't any of these. I don't normally 'do' real-life crime but hey-ho.
Now, from the off, there are some rather disturbing themes and imagery, notably child-abuse, male-rape and animal cruelty (albeit already deceased). Just as well i've been married to my long-suffering wife for so long...Oh yes, and this film is to nail-beauty as Marathon Man is to dental procedures, just saying is all.
In terms of aesthetics, it is superficially a beautifully shot film but i'm afraid it's embraced the 'art-house' route with a little too much zeal. Lots of silent mise-en-scene, aimless direction, and meaningful, lingering shots. I'm sure there's others that will disagree but I found the strong Adelaide accent rather impenetrable at times. I can't really fully engage in a movie if by the time my brain's digested one sentence of dialogue i've already missed the next. One more thing, as the characters weren't often introduced properly i'd be left wondering who the heck these random people were in the house.
On the other hand, it is a worthwhile film to watch. It think it works well as a critique of society, a societal microcosm existing in isolation from the 'others' where dubious morality and human nature are nurtured. The characters, by and large, are clearly the dregs of society scraping by in an unenviable existence. Yes, it's a true story of a mass-murderer and his accomplices but that for me was almost secondary.
In short, i'm not convinced it warrants its plaudits but worth a watch.
on 9 December 2011
(dir Justin Kurzel/120 minutes)
The film is a warts-and-all dramatisation of the notorious "Snowtown murders", a gruesome series of eleven killings that took place in Australia between 1992 and 1999. Ringleader John Bunting and others, including his susceptible teenage stepson James, preyed upon people they suspected to be paedophiles, perverts or homosexuals, stuffing their corpses into barrels and then stealing their welfare benefit payments. So, as you can imagine, Snowtown is a tough watch; so tough, in fact, that several people walked out during the Manchester screening I attended last month. I have to confess that several scenes made me feel rather queasy (such as when Bunting demands his stepson prove himself by shooting his dog) and made me question why I'd not just gone to see the new Twilight movie instead (though that would probably have made me feel equally nauseous). For Snowtown is arguably more frightening or unnerving than any horror film; even forgetting the fact that this is a true story (which, admittedly, is impossible to do), the casual way Bunting disposes of his victims is truly terrifying. We have this imperious juxtaposition between scenes of sustained torture followed immediately by Bunting jovially cooking breakfast or else mundane, perfectly ordinary family dinners with everybody having a good time. That's why this scared me. It all feels very close to home, very mundane, very real, almost banal; Bunting (portrayed here as charismatic and charming) commits his murders in the family home, often with the television playing away in the background. It's not an easy watch and certainly not for the faint hearted.
on 16 April 2013
I've watched more films than I have had hot meals. Like any person you develop your own 'best' list. If I was asked what are my favourite films, this would be in my top ten. Why? some films are hit and miss. Entertaining but like fast food it is satisfying for a short while and quickly forgotten about, nothing special. But when I finished watching 'Snowtown' I felt I had an experience very rarely felt. Punched in the head with its intensity throughout its two hours. Doesn't sound like much fun but the film is a deep, dark, bleak tale and all the more powerful because it actually happened in Snowtown, South Australia. The directing reminded me of films by Andrew Dominik and John Hillcoat. They beautifully direct the darkest of subjects and in this film Justin Kurzel has made a crime drama masterpiece. The music is effective and eerie, creeping under your skin. I hate the saying 'documentary style' but it really did feel in parts that I was watching an actual crime, murder, rape etc.. and the acting was so impressive it felt like I wasn't watching actors, but those who committed the crimes themselves. An awesome, hugely impressive, brave and intense piece of film making, not pulling any punches for a second. Deffinately worth watching.
on 14 May 2012
Australian screenwriter and director Justin Kurzel`s feature film debut which was written by screenwriter Shaun Grant after a story by Justin Kurzel and Shaun Grant, was inspired by Australian author and journalist Debi Marshall`s book "Killing For Pleasure: the definitive story of the Snowtown serial killings" (2006) and Australian author and journalist Andrew McGarry`s book "The Snowtown Murders: The Real Story Behind The Bodies-in-the-Barrels Killings" (2005). It was produced by Anna Mcleish and Sarah Shaw and is an Australian production which premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2011. It tells the story about 16-year-old Jamie Vlassakis who lives in a suburb North of Adelaide in South Australia in a tract home during the early 1990s with his mother Elizabeth Harvey who is struggling to take care of him and his brothers. After discovering that her boyfriend Jeffrey has been taking violating photographs of her sons, Elizabeth reports him to police. The following day, Elizabeth learns that Jeffrey has been released and contacts her gay friend Barry who later shows up at her place with his friend John. John makes quite an impression on Elizabeth and her sons with his domineering presence, expresses his resentment regarding what has happened to Elizabeth`s sons and takes an immediate liking to Jaimie. By giving Jaime and his brothers the chance to get revenge on Jeffrey by harassing him in various ways, he wins their affection and takes on the role as their father figure. Everyone feels safer now that John has come into their lives, but as Jaimie grows closer to John who acts as if he was his guardian angel, he is lured into an evil man`s world.
Acutely and precisely directed by first-time filmmaker Justin Kurzel, this poignantly eerie and graphic retelling of the eleven murders, instigated and mostly perpetrated by one of Australia`s worst serial killers John Bunting, which took place between August 1992 and May 1999 in the country town of Snowtown near Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. With a social realist approach and while notable for its naturalistic milieu depictions, the fine editing by film editor Veronika Jenet, cinematography by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw and the brilliant use of sound, this gritty and visceral psychological thriller, somewhat reminiscent of David Micôd`s "Animal Kingdom" (2010), draws a harrowing portrayal of a mother`s heartbreaking battle to support and protect her children and a rare father-son relationship.
This character-driven independent film about an afflicted family who sees a sign of hope when they meet a seemingly charming, considerate and affectionate man who walks into their home and takes command, depicts an internal study of character and is impelled and reinforced by its cogent narrative structure and the unflinching acting performance by Australian actor Daniel Henshall and the heartrending acting performances by Lucas Pittaway in his first feature film role and Louise Harris in her first feature film role. A reverent directorial debut which gained the Audience Award at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2011, the AACTA Award for Best Direction Justin Kurzel, Best Adapted Screenplay Shaun Grant, Best Lead Actor Daniel Henshall, Best Supporting Actress Louise Harris, Best Editing Veronika Jenet and Best Sound at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards in 2011 and a Special Mention from the Jury President at the 64th Cannes International Film Festival in 2011.
on 24 April 2012
Unless you are Australian, you probably will not have heard of the true life serial killings on which this drama is based. No matter, the film unfolds as a study in violence in depravity with the young Jamie (Pittway) at its centre. As such, it is compelling and at times mesmeric.
Sexually abused and generally neglected, Jamie is easy pickings for John (Henshall), a charismatic figure who seems to offer the promise of fatherly mentorship. Unfortunately, mentorship in this case soon escalates from throwing dismembered kangaroo up a paedophile's front porch... to dismembering paedophiles.
So far so sympathetic then, since many viewers may feel that this is no more than they deserve. Unfortunately, it becomes evident that John's motives are more to do with bullying and self aggrandisement than making Australia safe for kiddies.
The film is not easy on the eye, but is intelligently directed, with powerful performances all round. At times it seems to drag a little, but this does have the effect of furthering the viewer's sense of being immersed in the tawdry milieu of the killer and his acolytes.
An original film, not for those feeling down at, or faint of, heart.
This is a film by director Justin Curzel who, with Warp Pictures, had to get reporting restrictions lifted on the real life case that this film depicts, in order to screen his work. It is about the `Bodies in Barrels' murders that took place in South Australia between 1992 and 1999. In the film we start with a low rent family in Adelaide's suburbs, a place that is beyond bleak, full of slots, smokes and squalor. The mother (Elizabeth Harvey) has three sons and an elder one (half brother) who comes in later. They have a `special uncle' who lives across the road, and whilst he seems to be interested in Elisabeth, he is actually abusing the young boys. She finds out and goes `ape' to coin an oft used vernacular.
Enter new guy John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) he appears as a knight in rusting armour and sets about ousting the paedophile. Now ensconced as a vigilante hero, he takes on the mantle of local moral guardian and enlists the help of others in his `work'. Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is sixteen and has more troubles than most of that age, John decides he needs to `grow a pair' and thus he gets sucked into a world of violence, torture and murder.
This is a beautifully shot film and has been accused of being too arty, lingering shots, periods of no dialogue etc. However the seeming ordinariness of those moments is the perfect juxtaposition for the brutal things that are happening on screen. All of the actors are totally convincing, even the world ropiest transvestite and the guy with learning difficulties. The music is minimal but potent and we have a full grotesquery of supporting characters, plus scenes of kangaroo butchery which is pretty disturbing.
I was so gripped by this that I felt I had only been watching for about an hour when it had finished, when this is a two hour film. I then checked out the real case and it is actually worse than what the film depicts, which is probably a good thing. The film leaves it up to the viewer to judge the people and whilst you are clear who the guilty parties are, as things progress the clear lines of guilt and innocence get blurred to beyond recognition.
Once again Screen Australia has brought us an excellent film that whilst many will find disturbing still makes a powerful statement and an engrossing film into the bargain. I can only recommend with the caveat that the violence is disturbing, but despite that is far from gratuitous, this is not `torture porn'. If you find this to your liking then `Animal Kingdom' will be one you might enjoy too.
on 21 March 2012
I want to start with saying this is not a gory,violent movie as
one reviewer stated below.No more violent than say Reservoir dogs
so anyone expecting horror/slasher themes will be disappointed.
The story is seen entirely through the eyes of Jamie.Who is abused
by his half brother and his mums boyfriend.After her mum meets John
Bunting,a charming and kind neighborhood watchman,Jamie is sucked into
hims world of sadistic torture and murder.
The two main leads played the part excellently and the story is facsinating
as at times as it is darkly disturbing.
on 7 December 2012
Theres nothing wrong with bleak, foreboding atmospheres and controversy in movies but there is absolutely no light breaking through the destructive, chilling portrayal of a rundown, disassociated, abused family being tormented and oppressed by a nasty sociopath. its a brave attempt to capture the secrets that have been dormant in Australia for a long period of time but despite decent performances(the chap who plays Bunting is phenomenal) i was totally uncomfortable and actually fairly bored as its a bit of a mess at times the way its directed. seen better hard hitting films over the years.
The press junket and first wave of critical notices built Snowtown up as a throat ripper that will cause you nightmares. That didn't do it any favours as per expectation levels for the horror enthusiast. However, this is a superb piece of film making, a real gritty and grainy deconstruction of the human condition gone sour. As with all films of this type that are based on real life incidents, it pays to read up on the facts if you be so inclined.
Debut director Justin Kurzel doesn't shirk from the horrors of the case, but skillfully he doesn't bang everyone over the head with shock tactics to grab the attention. It's a relentlessly bleak picture, there's a continuous build of impending dread, of human devastation wrung out by a master manipulator (Daniel Henshall as John Bunting superb), the depressing story told through the eyes of the simple and confused Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway).
Not to be watched if one is looking to be cheered up! But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be sought out as essential cinema. It's a strong and potent film, worthy of inspection by adults who understand that not all film is about entertainment. 8.5/10