Australian cinema is a bid of a blind spot for me, if I’m being honest. It’s rare to see an Australian drama raise its head on the international market; Animal Kingdom last year being a welcomed exception. Snowtown opened last weekend here in Scotland to underwhelming numbers (no need to mention what devilry caused this) to many a viewer’s misfortune.
Snowtown is the story of a boy and his relationship to John Bunting ‘Australia’s worst serial killer‘. Indeed based on a true story, the film is one of the most intense viewing experiences I’ve encountered this year. Not for all tastes, the film is extremely intense and at points quite disturbing.
By no means does Snowtown border on horror, it’s simply a very dramatic account of the people involved and their emotions, rather than their actions. The young Lucas Pittaway who plays the central character Jamie, the boy who becomes charmed by a very cruel man, does an excellent job in his first and only (so far) role.
The story revolves around Bunting, his horrific deeds and ultimate demise, but focuses more on Jamie’s life, family and experiences. His barren, violent home and struggling mother, the abuse he’s had to deal with, the poor, abandonded neighbourhood all lay a setting that intensifies the dispair surrounding Jamie’s life. The absence of a father figure, at least one who didn’t take advantage of his Ledgerian good looks nor his brothers, makes Jamie vulnerable to Bunting’s charismatic, deviant ways. The group of people Bunting surrounds him with is poisonous on the susceptible boy’s mind.
The group, John Bunting’s entourage, is violently disgusted by homosexuals and pedophiles, gathering to discuss their dream scenarios of what they’d do if they’d confront one. Little do some of them know, that Bunting is filling his every gruesome fantasy with his apprentice Robert.
The victims range from disabled people to Jamie’s half-brother Troy who’d been sexually abusing Jamie for years. What is shown on film is merely disgusting, but apparently further away from the truth. I do sometimes enjoy gritty, gory shots because I find them beautiful in their very particular way, but here the anxiety you feel doesn’t have much to do with the visuals but rather the pressing, torturous atmosphere. Snowtown makes your mind go places you really don’t want it to go. And no one really wants to see a dog get shot, do they?
But as I mentioned, the focal point is indeed the emotion, the feel of the depressing peripherial life and the desperate extents it drives people’s bodies and minds. Not just a great depiction of a true story, but inevitably a commentary on the lifestyle in a godforsaken place where evil is loose, in more ways than one.
Visually Snowtown follows a colourless, grainy and depressing feel, not unlike Romper Stomper (another Australian gem), that adds to the powerful feel of the film. The mostly nameless actors give it their all, especially Daniel Henshall as the evil but charming killer. Henshall shows many sides to his character, as the front of a family man, an angry man, a murderous, heinous man.
On the downside, the film is not very accessible, and many have reported to say they couldn’t watch it due to the draining nature. Even I struggled at points where the intensity was drawn to a max and the scene was just completely lacking in hope. It’s mostly a character study, an atmoshperical succession than a ‘serial killer thriller’; those looking for another Wolf Creek will be disappointed.
You Will Like Snowtown If …
– you enjoyed the likes of Animal Kingdom and Fish Tank.
– you’re not annoyed be flamboyant eating noises (OK, this might sound weird but seriously, it’s my biggest pet peeve, eating noises that is, and boy do they keep eating in every scene. Every goddamn scene.)
– you’re not planning a trip down under any time soon.
8 / 10