|LFF Review: Snowtown|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Monday, 17 October 2011 14:05|
Director: Justin Kurzel
Snowtown is not a happy film. A dramatisation of Australia's most prolific serial killer, John Bunting, it's a gruesome watch. But it's also incredibly gripping. Some might compare it to Animal Kingdom, last year's Australian crime epic, but this is a different kettle of fish altogether. It's a true story, which gives the movie a walloping punch.
Jamie (Pittaway) is a young kid with an older sibling who likes to abuse him. A quiet mild-mannered boy, he grimaces and bears it. Even when the bloke next door forces him and his brothers to take their clothes off while babysitting, he doesn’t do anything (it falls to his mum to cross the road and kick the crap out of the guy).
Enter John (Henshall). A friendly guy with a big smile and bushy beard, he takes a lot of pleasure in sorting out the friendly neighbourhood paedo. A little too much pleasure. Hosting meetings round the dinner table with like-minded locals, he settles in as the patriarch of the house, waging a campaign against child molesters from the kitchen. All the while, he coaxes Jamie to share his violent ideology.
But what starts out as a series of brutal beatings soon becomes darker. After claiming to target the child abusers in the town, John’s gaze aims wider, and soon anyone thought to be a homosexual is rounded up and taken to a darkened room so their toenails can be pulled out with pliers. Then the victims are slowly dispatched, forced to record an answerphone message to explain their sudden absence from the screen.
Snowtown’s most shocking decision is the perspective of Shaun Grant's script. Following things through Jamie’s eyes, we identify with his anger and transformation, much like This Is England and Animal Kingdom. As the vulnerable lead, Pittaway is extremely likeable, while Henshall’s cheerful performance is horribly disarming. Together, they create perhaps the most disturbing rationalisation of murder since The Talented Mr Ripley.
But where Animal Kingdom’s young protagonist sought redemption, Snowtown’s factual origins give Jamie’s character a fixed destination and Kurzel covers every detail of the case, leading to a slightly bloated third act, but his unflinching direction and almost non-existent soundtrack give events a near-documentary feel. And yet the visual style still allows for a striking final shot.
As the pile of bodies gets bigger, Snowtown spirals into haunting territory. It’s long and unpleasant, but it’s a challenging depiction of reality that reveals the uneasy, natural onset of evil.