out of Five
Running time: 120
Powerfully directed and superbly written, this is a genuinely disturbing, emotionally draining serial killer drama with a stunning central performance from Daniel Henshall.
What's it all about?
Directed by Justin Kurzel, Snowtown is based on the true story of John Bunting, Australia's most notorious serial killer. Set in the late 90s, the film stars Lucas Pittaway as 16 year old Jamie, who lives in a run-down Adelaide suburb with his two younger brothers, his mother Liz (Louise Harris) and her charismatic new boyfriend John (Daniel Henshall), a blokey, charming man who quickly ingratiates himself with the boys.
However, after the boys are coerced into posing for photos by a neighbourhood paedophile (Frank Cwertniak), John encourages Jamie to help chase him out of town (partly by throwing dismembered kangaroo parts at his porch). As Jamie's bond with John deepens, he realises that John and his friends are systematically killing everyone in the neighbourhood that John doesn't like.
Daniel Henshall is terrific as the avuncular John, who's a world away from the usual movie portrayal of a serial killer, not least because he genuinely seems to care about his new-found family – essentially, he's a delusional sociopath targeting what he sees as undesirable members of society and drawing others into his delusion. The rest of the cast (all non-professionals from the real-life neighbourhood, as is director Kurzel) are equally good, particularly Pittaway, whose seemingly blank delivery works well in connection with Henshall's performance and is frequently deployed to devastating effect, such as when Jamie is casually raped by his older half-brother Troy (Anthony Groves).
Kurzel's direction is extraordinary throughout, sticking closely to Lucas' perspective and choosing to show some of the killings in horrific detail but having others occur off-screen or between scenes, with characters just disappearing (John makes them record answering machine messages saying that they're leaving town before he kills them). This means that as John's paranoia builds, you know another murder is coming but you never know whether you're going to see the whole thing or hear it in another room or just skip past it, which creates a horrifically tense atmosphere.
It's important to note that Snowtown has much more in common with the likes of Animal Kingdom and The Boys than it does with torture-porn fests such as Wolf Creek. That said, there are some brutal scenes that are utterly devastating to watch, most notably an extended sequence where John repeatedly violently chokes Troy and invites Jamie to join in and finish him off.
With a strong script and superb performances, Snowtown is a powerful, emotionally draining serial killer drama that marks director Justin Kurzel out as a talent to watch. Highly recommended.