Review: Snowtown (2011, Warp Films)

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snowtown

Category: Crime/Noir, Psychological
Directed by:
Justin Kerzal

Written by: Shaun Grant
Starring: Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway, Louise Harris
Music: Jed Kurzel
Cinematography: Adam Arkapaw

Snowtown is a bleak crime film that recounts the events of one of Australia’s most well known serial murder cases, The Snowtown Murders, masterminded by John Bunting. On May 20, 1999 eight bodies were found in barrels of hydrochloric acid in Snowtown, South Australia with three additional bodies found in Adelaide. In the film, Elizabeth Harvey and her three young sons; Jamie, Troy, and Nicholas, become acquainted with the charismatic John Bunting who manipulates those around him into murdering those he deemed unfit to live.

Our protagonist Jamie and his brothers have indecent photographs of them taken in the beginning of the film by their mother’s boyfriend. With the police not being much help, Elizabeth’s transvestite friend Barry introduces her to John Bunting who has a particular disdain for pedophiles and homosexuals. With the help of the boys he scares the man out of town and begins to rally together the neighborhood and slowly begins to manipulate them. Under the guise of vigilante justice, he’s able to get those under his spell to commit senseless acts of violence.

Shot in a gritty, realistic tone, Snowtown takes place mainly in the poor suburb of Salisbury North where the stoic atmosphere amongst the townsfolk and use of grey oriented color tones creates a depressing atmosphere from the beginning. Aside from Daniel Henshall (Bunting) and Richard Green (Barry), the rest of the cast consisted of non-actors which adds to the docudrama-esque quality of the film. Henshall’s portrayal of Bunting really steals the show balancing his charismatic, patriarchal personality he displays in public and the psychotic yet cunning and collected part of himself he keeps hidden. The other characters all seem rundown and share a similar sense of ennui which made it difficult for the supporting cast to shine, although this fit the tone of the film as to make it believable that these people can be coerced to murder.

The manipulation process was the focus of the film, with a two hour run time giving ample time for a believable story. Bunting preys on the weaknesses of those around them and breaks them to his will, taking almost complete control of his peers. His relationship with Jamie being a main focal point, using a fatherly approach to make Jamie feel as though his actions are done to protect him. While the acts of murder and torture take a backseat to the main plot, when they do show acts of violence it’s unforgivably brutal. Avoiding over the top blood and gore, the torture scene in the film is difficult to watch as John stares directly into his victim’s eyes as he’s repeatedly strangled, allowing him to breath just long enough to stay conscious.

I read up a bit on the actual murders when I first heard about this film, and it’s fairly accurate to the real events. The murders were extremely violent and gruesome and unlike many films based on serial killers, first time director Justin Kurzel shies away from the violence to focus on the relationship between John Bunting and the townsfolk. I very much enjoyed the film, the cast was great and it’s very well shot, the interactions between the characters is very believable although it’s fairly long and there are spans of time where not much action happens so I can see how some could get bored halfway through the film, especially if they’re expecting a plethora of murder scenes. Check this out of you’re into slow burning, psychological crime films.

7/10

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