Film Review – Snowtown

Snowtown (MA)

Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Starring: Daniel Hensall, Lucas Pittaway, Louise Harris

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

This could be one of the biggest challenges in film reviewing – justifying four stars for a film about homophobia, torture, murder, molestation, abuse and animal cruelty. Anyone looking for a fun time at the cinema need not apply with this tough to watch but technically well made Australian drama. Anyone thinking about having a meal before (or after) seeing this film may also want to rethink their plans.

Snowtown is slowly gathering a reputation to rival Saw and The Exorcist with reports of audience members running out of screenings. It is true, it takes someone with a strong stomach to sit through some of the horrible things that are shown and explored in great detail. Audience members have not squirmed in their seats so much since James Franco started hacking off his arm in 127 Hours or when Natalie Portman ripped her finger skin back like a Band-Aid in Black Swan.

Director Justin Kurzel takes us to some dark places (flashlights may be required) and yet the proceedings are not exploitative. Images and themes are strictly for adults, but they transcend cheap shock value status. He confronts his audience with plenty of unpleasant stuff but gives it all context – this is a tale of nature versus nurture and what drives people to vigilante behaviour.

Sixteen year old Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) comes from a broken home. His parents are separated and he lives with his poverty-stricken mum Elisabeth (Louise Harris) and two younger brothers. When mum leaves the boys under the care of a seemingly nice neighbour – who even appears to be boyfriend material and a potential father figure – he violates them.

Without a single word spoken about the incident, Mum instinctively knows something is wrong and word gets out to her neighbours. Elisabeth turns to charming John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) who seems like a the perfect candidate to be the boys’ role model. He is sweet to Elisabeth, friendly to the boys and seems keen to get revenge on their molester.

His sinister side begins to bleed out slowly as he holds neighbourhood meetings to throw around ideas on how they would punish local child molesters. Then he hacks up kangaroos to leave on the porch of the boys’ attacker. In case we weren’t already aware, we learn throughout the film that Bunting was one of Australia’s worst serial killers. What is most disturbing is how he seduces Jamie to be his protegé.

The proceedings are undeniably one note and gloomy and audience members may feel the need for an immediate scrub once the film is over. But also undeniable is the power the film has. It may not be a pleasant experience but it achieves what it sets out to do – it wants to shed light on the dark side of human nature.

Kurzel displays impressive skill and discipline. The story develops with a distinct sense of dread that rivals the best white knuckle thrillers. He has smashed the light at the end of this tunnel, beginning and ending with an almost unbearably depressing state. But if you have the stomach for it, stick with it.

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