More often than not, I like to write reviews of movies before I’ve taken on board too many outside influences and opinions. This helps me keep my own focus and reduces the risk of accidentally repeating some salient point already made by others. It also helps me to maintain my own opinion of the final product without knowing whether I am agreeing with a majority or standing out as a lone voice for or against a film. Snowtown was a movie I looked into after viewing it, however, because it is a fictionalised account of a horrid real-life murder case that occurred in Australia. While my main focus is to review the movie and not to see how everything weighs up against the facts of the case, I was curious to see just how much of the horror I’d seen onscreen was grounded in reality. Because it all felt very, very real.
All of this rambling is my way of saying that I stumbled across many other reviews for Snowtown that seemed to find many faults with the film, often the same criticisms would crop up again and again – a repeated use of certain shot compositions and camera technique, a lack of anything actually happening onscreen, a pointlessness to the whole thing.
I strongly disagree.
Using the low-key, highly naturalistic approach that worked so disturbingly well in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, director Justin Kurzel (who co-wrote the story with screenplay writer Shaun Grant) has provided movie audiences with something quietly horrifying and sickening and yet somehow compulsive from start to finish.
Some crimes are scary because of the lack of motivation, others are scary and saddening because you can see a background, a vulnerability to characters who end up in with the wrong crowd and starting down a slippery slope. Snowtown really shows the latter kind of crime in many instances.
Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris) is doing her best to raise her four boys on her own. One night she asks someone to watch the boys and eventually learns that this man has abused his position and her children. Into this situation comes John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a macho Aussie bloke who is straight-talking and puts up with no bullshit. He befriends the boys and helps them to keep up numerous tactics against the abuser until he leaves the area. During this time, Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) starts to look up to John and develops a real friendship that helps him get through a life still prone to intermittent moments of abuse. John is a charismatic man and gets a lot of people onside when he discusses more and more extreme ways to deal with those that he views as a threat to other men and children (he basically lumps gay people and paedophiles together and convinces others that they’re all sexual predators). With his own warped moral compass, John begins to deal with those he sees as potentially dangerous to society. And Jamie is dragged along, initially reluctant but eventually won over by the persuasiveness of John.
I was shocked on a couple of occasions while watching Snowtown. It doesn’t set out to deliberately make you jump or wince but it moves from calm normality to potential violence and death with an ease that shows just how John Bunting seemingly approached each “job”. The other impressive aspect of the movie is how, just even ever so slightly, you start the movie as the other characters do – you like John Bunting and you almost root for him even as he clearly heads towards a line that he’s only too willing to overstep.
The acting is superb. Daniel Henshall is just as alternately charming and chilling as the character is supposed to be while Lucas Pittaway is one of life’s victims who finds a drastic way to toughen up. Louise Harris does well, as does everyone else involved, but the focus of the movie stays on the relationship between John and Jamie, and in doing so provides a fascinating insight into how someone can be seen as a hero before turning into an outright villain without engendering a complete turnaround in the feelings of those close enough to the situation.
People after a standard beginning-middle-finale will be disappointed by the film. It’s not a complete tale, it’s a snapshot of circumstances that show a dark, dark part of human nature. There ARE many times when nothing much is happening onscreen (on the surface, anyway) but there are also one or two moments of nastiness that make this unsuitable for anyone who doesn’t have the stomach for such material.
A harsh, bleak, uncomfortable movie it may be yet it’s one that I still recommend as a worthwhile viewing.
DIRECTOR: JUSTIN KURZEL
WRITER: SHAUN GRANT
STARS: DANIEL HENSHALL, LUCAS PITTAWAY, LOUISE HARRIS, CRAIG COYNE, RICHARD GREEN, ANTHONY GROVES
RUNTIME: 115 MINS APPROX