It’s not often that a film’s selling point is how little one would wish to re-watch it, but this is precisely the case with Australian director Justin Kurzel’s debut feature, Snowtown. Focusing on the lives of those involved in serial killer John Bunting’s real-world Snowtown “Bodies in Barrels” murders (played here by Daniel Henshall in a career-making performance), Snowtown’s unblinking gaze at low-income suburban banality, perversion and brutality is nothing short of devastating.
In a similar vein to Animal Kingdom, Snowtown uses abused teenager Jamie Vlassakis (played with jaw-dropping composure by first-time actor Lucas Pittaway) to engage the audience’s sympathies. However where this film differs is that it has no interest whatsoever in redemption. There is no ray of hope in Snowtown.
Some, like Margaret Pomerantz (ABC’s At the Movies), may argue that Snowtown’s lack of moral centre asks too much of its audience (and she may have a point; there were indeed a few early exits during my screening), but the sheer bravery of the filmmaking here must be applauded. It takes real courage of conviction to make such a risky film. To do so and succeed with a cast of virtual unknowns is simply staggering. There’s no doubt that Kurzel’s emergence—and the faith placed in his abilities—is an exciting development for Australian cinema.
Snowtown will certainly prove too much for some tastes, but it’s not because of anything as shallow or simplistic as graphic violence. It’s simply that Kurzel has crafted a film that’s just too realistically horrifying to be “enjoyed” in any typical sense. It may be the kind of film you only want to see once, but to skip it altogether would be to miss a truly unique—if not pleasant—experience.
Snowtown opens tonight in cinemas.
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