Thursday, 7 March 2013

Snowtown - confirms every tenderly nursed, dark prejudice you may have that Australian males are, by and large, an ill-educated, repellant shower of, violent, murderous, misogynistic sociopaths.


When sexually abused, alienated teen Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) meets his mother Liz’s (Louise Harris) charismatic new beau John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), life seems to be looking up. 

Poor white trash, Jamie and his brothers eke out a miserable, precarious existence in one of the more deprived, seedy areas of Adelaide, blighted by drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and sexual abuse, preyed on by older siblings and predatory kiddie fiddling neighbours. 

Charming, funny, generous and thoughtful, if a bit rough around the edges, John offers a much-needed positive, masculine role model to Jamie and his brothers who are sorely in need of a father figure. 

With a pathological hatred of paedophiles, bullies and wasters, it’s no wonder Jamie sees in John a surrogate father and mentor; someone who’ll teach him to be a man.  John is exactly the kind of fair dinkum, rugged individualist that built Australia and seems to be the first adult male who seems genuinely interested in the vulnerable, damaged Jamie who doesn’t want to bum him.

He’s also a white-hot psychopath; the self-appointed, homophobic leader of his own gang of vigilantes determined to cleanse Adelaide of paedos, fags, junkies and other undesirables.  What starts of as a little harmless harassment of the local kiddie fiddler (throwing ice cream cones at his house, daubing his porch with kangaroo guts) soon escalates into more overt violence however as Jamie starts noticing a lot of people around the neighbourhood have gone missing.  John has plans for Jamie though, big plans…

Based on the horrific true story of the prolific gang of serial killers who shocked Australia, Snowtown is one of the chilliest, most fundamentally bleak films you’ll see this year. 

It also confirms every tenderly nursed, dark prejudice you may have that Australian males are, by and large, an ill-educated, repellant shower of, violent, murderous, misogynistic sociopaths. 

While I personally in no way condone or support this view of Antipodean masculinity, if you’ve ever been in a Walkabout Inn at 1:30am and overheard an Aussie sexually harass, I mean romance, a young lady with the words: “Don’t be such a snooty cow, do you fancy a root or what?” you kinda start to suspect that John Bunting may not be that much of an anomaly.

A deceptively ordinary, blokey, alpha male, Bunting, played by the brilliant Daniel Henshall, is a truly terrifying creation.  Charming and charismatic, he’s a brash, swaggering fantasist, convinced of his own righteousness, who starts out torturing and murdering suspected paedophiles but soon widens his pool of potential victims, targeting the lost, the lonely, the forgotten, the mentally disabled and the emotionally vulnerable, victims of convenience, of opportunity.  Slowly, deliberately, he seduces the vulnerable, damaged teenage Jamie, drawing him into a sick sub-culture of violence, murder and intimidation but Henshall is mesmerising in the role, playing Bunting not as the monster but as the hero he obviously was in his own head and, as such, becomes almost the closest thing to a sympathetic character in the film, certainly its most attractive.

As his teenage accomplice, Pittaway is staggeringly good.  A damaged, victim-turned-victimiser, he wanders through the film, sullen, numb, dead behind the eyes.  As he’s sucked slowly in by Bunting and becomes increasingly enamoured of the seductive power he comes to hold over life and death, you watch with a hollow, sick feeling of dread as he selects, researches and grooms prospective victims, hoping against hope for a moral and spiritual awakening, for some form of redemption that never comes. 

Slow-burning and laid-back to the point of being horizontal, Snowtown throbs with a growing sense of tension, dread and impending doom that never finds release and paints a casually brutal vision of life on the margins in suburban Australia where siblings beat and rape each other over the controls for the TV, the abused become abusers and where mass serial murder is an open secret that’s not only ignored but condoned by Bunting’s neighbours.

Dark, violent and unrelentingly bleak, Justin Kurzel has fashioned a restrained, subtle, powerful work suffused with a grim despair that evil can be quite so banal.

David Watson

Justin Kurzel
Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall, Richard Green, Louise Harris, 
Running time
119 minutes

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