Directed by Justin Kurzel.
Starring Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway and Craig Coyne.
A drama about the Australian serial killer John Bunting.
For those of you out there sick of the raft of Australian true crime T.V interpretations with poor production value, generic formal style and that perhaps ‘glamorize’ society’s ‘underbelly’; Snowtown feels like the necessary headlong plunge into an ice bath that you need to jolt you back to reality.
Snowtown recounts the story of the young, disenfranchised Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) whose introduced to a defensive, protective, charismatic, father figure John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) after a serious trauma. As their relationship grows Jamie suspects that there is something more sinister beneath John’s ‘good’ nature. Jamie’s worst fears are confirmed when his impressionable vulnerability and loyalty to John sees him seamlessly become accomplice to one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers.
The film is purposefully titled – the context gives this scenario its uniquity. And like a scientific experiment, it creates/portrays the conditions that a serial killing troupe can exist. This adequately contextualises the group without justifying their actions. The filmmakers have skilfully tread the fine line of empathy, sympathy, and total revulsion and disgust. This is helped by exceptionally tangible and subtle performances that make this film a participatory exercise. You at times feel yourself boiling over ready to be a vigilante, then seamlessly flowing into denouncing those feelings because of how they mutate in the film. This film makes the fictional nightmare commentary of smalltown incestuous human impulse and ignorance that Lars von Trier’s stunning Dogville illustrates and gives it a real world context.
Snowtown is simultaneously exquisitely shot and exceptionally gritty. Director Justin Kurzel benefits greatly from the decision to shoot on location and using actors predominantly from the region. The opening stanza of the film draws you into the depressing, painfully pale portrait of life in Snowtown suburbia. The devil is in the details; and the real locations, oppressive overcast grey weather, hopeless shop fronts and look of the predominantly local cast allows you to totally immerse yourself into the events that are to unfold. Kurzel, working from Shaun Grant’s overwhelmingly necessary script, sculpts utterly virtuosic performances that indelibly tattoo your memory.
Onto the normally totally under-rated sound design of Frank Lipson. Oscar winning director Danny Boyle (whose Shallow Grave gave us some of the most spine tingling sound design in a film)once said “cinema is 70% sound,” and the affect of a aural trigger like the sound of a poker machine, or the sounds of a cricket commentary to transport the audience into the moment are amazing and unquantifiable. The minimalist soundtrack is ominous and understated but the opening spartan drumbeat is instantly iconic – even thinking about it as I write this review transports you into the almost trance like receptive mode.
Snowtown is exquisitely performed by everyone involved especially the blank-faced protagonist Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) who was cast after being spotted in the local shopping centre. The director had Pittaway rehearse pretty intensely prior to the shoot – because of the emotional weight the role carries – and it pays off; he delivers a great performance. But for better or worse the performance that will be remembered in this film is Daniel Henshall’s virtuosic portrayal of John Bunting. Quite simply he is one of the most fully formed characters (especially under the broad ‘antagonist’ banner) that I’ve seen in any film. In a recent and great interview that Kevin Smith had with Red State star, Michael Parks on the Red State of the Union Podcast: Parks speaks of the best bit of direction Smith gave him in the production. Parks says that Smith advised him to “be even sweeter.” When I think about Henshall’s performance – his sweetness (in true socio ‘psycho’pathic form) towards those he cares about contrasted with the clinical artistry of his brutality is memorable to say the least. This film is a fairly harrowing viewing experience (to the credit of all involved) but I would watch it again and again to appreciate Henshall’s advertisement for what should be a prolific and fruitful career on the horizon.
This was a great film. Go and put some ‘deniro’ or ‘sheckles’ down for this one people – you may be shocked, confronted, and disgusted: but you will NOT be disappointed.
Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the castleco-op.com.
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