January 10, 2012

Filthy Review - Snowtown

Snowtown (2011)

Review by Jude Felton

Over the years many of my favorite films have been Australian. The Skinhead drama Romper Stomper from 1992, 1988’s brutal prison flick Ghosts of the Civil Dead, the stunning Western, The Proposition and most recently 2008’s The Horseman are all films that have taken a familiar genre, whether it be a revenge flick or Western and put their own distinctive spin on it. All of them though share one common binding factor, they are harsh, brutal and uncompromising movies that show events in an unflinching honesty.

Now the serial killer genre has been given its own devastating twist in director Justin Kurzel’s thoroughly bleak Snowtown. Released in its homeland in 2011 Snowtown will see a U.S. release in February of 2012 and it is a film that demands your attention. Based on the infamous exploits of Australia’s most notorious serial killer, John Bunting, and the “Bodies in Barrells” case of the 1990’s, it takes a unique look at these crimes and is not your typical serial killer movie, far from in fact. If you think Shane Meadow’s This is England crossed with Penelope Spheeris’ Surburbia with added murder you might get a feel for how this movie is, as it is as much a drama about peer pressure, disenchanted youth and life at the bottom rung of society.

The story follows Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) and his family, which consists of his mother and two brothers. After kicking to the curb her latest boyfriend, Jamie’s mother takes up with the incredibly charismatic John. He’s the sort of guy that puts family first and is a take-no-shit kind of man. John thinks the world of the children and his influence on the kids, especially Jamie, soon shines through. He is, however, an incredibly opinionated man, and during local neighborhood watch meetings thinks nothing on sharing his violent opinions on the sex offenders that live in their poor Northern Adelaide suburbs.

Talk soon becomes actual violence and it isn’t too long before Jamie not only discovers what is happening, but becomes embroiled in a series of violent crimes.

To say that you watch Snowtown would be to do the film a serious injustice. Instead you endure the bleak story unfold. The word that came to mind whilst watching, or enduring it, was unpleasant. There are scenes that are truly difficult to watch, not because they are especially graphic, although there are one or two particularly nasty moments, but because they portray the full emotion of the moment on the screen. John is a truly nasty piece of work, yet he is also the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Daniel Henshall puts in an absolutely wonderful performance as John, the charisma, the fear he elicits, everything is just spot on. This plays in complete contrast to Pittaway’s shy and frightened performance as Jamie and the balance is terrific between the two.

Aside from murder many other themes are explored here, from bullying to peer pressure to sexual assault, and all will leave you drained as the film draws to a close. The ending, without giving anything at all away, is one of the most chilling I have seen. Snowtown is a true horror film hidden behind the mask of a family drama. Talk is often made of what is the most controversial or graphic film people have ever seen. Well, Snowtown is one of the most powerful without resorting to cheap tactics, overt gore or sensationalism. Yes it is based on a true story, but the lengths the filmmakers went to make the film, which involved consulting the affected communities, assure that there is no glamorization of murder. This is a cold, bleak and depressing film that won’t appeal to everyone but is quite exceptional to these eyes.

Well written, superb direction and a great score, all combined with top notch performances, ensure that this excellent film is one that won’t soon be forgotten. Welcome to Snowtown, enjoy your stay.

Snowtown is released by IFC Midnight on February 29th


Alex Jowski said...

Looks like an awesome movie. Thanks!

Lord of Filth said...

It really is, Alex!