Movie Review: Snowtown (2011)

May 12, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Snowtown is in cinemas 19 May 2011

In Australia, ‘Snowtown’ is synonymous with the infamous Snowtown murders, otherwise known as the Bodies in Barrels murders of the 1990s. And so I was very intrigued when I attended a screening of Snowtown, the new Aussie film that dramatises the horrific and somewhat bizarre events.

After the brilliant Animal Kingdom last year, I was ready to give any Australian film the benefit of the doubt, though I must admit I was slightly concerned because Snowtown is directed by a first-time feature director (Justin Kurzel) and stars a bunch of first-time feature actors.

Fortunately, those concerns were unfounded, because Snowtown doesn’t feel like the product of a group of first-timers. The film might be a little rough around the edges at times, but on the whole, it is solid cinema, and one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen in a long time. Frankly, Snowtown freaked me out.

The film is told from the perspective of young Jamie Vlassakis, who lives in the South Australian town of Snowtown with his mother and brothers. It’s a forgotten part of Australia, with people living barely above the poverty line and heavily affected by alcohol, drugs and sexual and domestic abuse. Enter John Bunting, a seemingly ordinary guy who befriends his family and becomes a father figure to Jamie. But there’s something about John that’s just not right, and Jamie soon finds himself falling too deep to get out.

Snowtown does have a bit of that Animal Kingdom feel to it in terms of style and the slower pace, but it is essentially a depressing horror film about one of the worst mass murderers in Australian history. It’s highly atmospheric, with some extremely graphic, visceral scenes that dare the audience to not look away — but at the same time there is a sense of authenticity and realism to it.

That’s the biggest strength of the film in my opinion — it’s ability to tell a story of such horrors without being over-the-top, cheesy or fake. The direction of Kurzel is actually very good, and the performances of the three main leads (Lucas Pittway, Daniel Henshall and Louise Harris) were all fantastic, miraculous really, considering this was their first feature film. Henshall, in particular, is outstanding as the terrifying, pathological Bunting.

Not all of the scenes worked, but my main complaint about the film is that it doesn’t explain some of the family/friendship dynamics very well. Bunting just appears in Jamie’s life — but we don’t really know where he came from. The same could be said for a number of the other characters. Who are they and how are they related to Jamie’s family? It wasn’t until I did some research after the film that I discovered who some of the characters were.

Ultimately, Snowtown is a strong film, technically and emotionally — not necessarily a pleasant one to watch, but if you enjoy dark, depressing films, being terrified and are intrigued by the type of people that stuff bodies in barrels (both apply to me), then this could be the film for you. To be perfectly honest, it unsettled, chilled, and scared the crap out of me, and I loved it because of that.

4 stars out of 5