Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: The Snowtown Murders

Though many will be put off by the elliptical style of this clammy, feral drama about Australia’s most infamous serial killer, Daniel Henshall’s jaw-droppingly malevolent performance will reward all those who seek it out.

March 1, 2012

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1315058-Snowtown_Murders_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

For a film about John Bunting, one of the most infamous serial killers in Australia’s history, The Snowtown Murders comes at its subject stealthily and almost wholly without sensationalism. Creating a slow-burning portrait of its depressed South Australian suburban milieu and the layers upon layers of dysfunction found therein, Justin Kurzel’s assured feature debut approaches its themes with care. Even when the story shifts more towards Bunting’s murderous exploits, the tone remains even. It’s as though what’s happening is no surprise at all, just the natural outgrowth of this toxic brew of poverty, rage and sickening abuse.

Well before Bunting enters the picture, Kurzel (using a baggy script by Shaun Grant that’s heavily based on two nonfiction accounts) has fully immersed viewers in the raggedly knockabout life of single mother Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris, appropriately depressive). She’s raising her three boys in a sketchy neighborhood with little money and an apparent inability to see when they’re being victimized. This becomes obvious early on, when we witness all three of them being photographed in their underwear by Elizabeth’s boyfriend. (A quietly harrowing scene shows him sitting down naked at the kitchen table after whatever abuse he’s put the boys through, and calmly smoking a cigarette as though nothing has happened.)

The film focuses in on the oldest of the boys, teenage Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), whose preternaturally silent and serene composure belies the torture he’s endured—later developments illustrate other horrid abuses at the hands of a family member. He’s the target of much too much attention when Bunting (Daniel Henshall) shows up as Elizabeth’s bearded, cheery new amour. A seemingly cherubic presence who shines a light into the Harveys’ downcast, narcotized existence, Bunting becomes both the dad they don’t ever seem to have had and the fun ringleader they need.

Kurzel peels back the veneer on Bunting’s charm with agonizing gradualism, a task made all that easier by Henshall’s riveting and revelatory work. His play with the boys becomes tinged with anger—a kindly scene of him buying ice-cream cones takes a different turn when he instructs them to use it to write angry messages on the windows of their abuser. Then Elizabeth’s kitchen table is turned into an unofficial neighborhood meeting center where Bunting, alternately slyly manipulative and viciously bullying, churns up opinions on what Inquisition-like punishments should be meted out to child abusers. This pivots from talk to action all too smoothly, with the vigilante passions of Bunting and some quiet compatriots quickly redirected into sheer homicidal homophobia. Jamie hovers on the periphery, shell-shocked by trauma and unable to peel himself away. Staggering outside as a murder is being committed, he sits on the porch, looking at children riding their bikes, blithely unaware of the horror occurring just feet away.

The style of The Snowtown Murders is elliptical in the extreme, with relationships and motivations left unexplained and plenty of details only barely sketched in, frustrating those looking here for any kind of true-crime drama. But Henshall’s career-making performance, soft-eyed yet cold-hearted, brings a tight focus to every scene he’s in. Kurzel shoots everything in a sickly blue pallor that brings a clammy unease to even the most innocuous scenes. The backdrops of skuzzy backyards and graffiti-splattered walls combine with most of the characters’ depressive rootlessness to create the perfect kind of despairing atmosphere where a charismatic brute like Henshall’s Bunting could run wild.
A star is born, darkly.



Film Review: The Snowtown Murders

Though many will be put off by the elliptical style of this clammy, feral drama about Australia’s most infamous serial killer, Daniel Henshall’s jaw-droppingly malevolent performance will reward all those who seek it out.

March 1, 2012

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1315058-Snowtown_Murders_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

For a film about John Bunting, one of the most infamous serial killers in Australia’s history, The Snowtown Murders comes at its subject stealthily and almost wholly without sensationalism. Creating a slow-burning portrait of its depressed South Australian suburban milieu and the layers upon layers of dysfunction found therein, Justin Kurzel’s assured feature debut approaches its themes with care. Even when the story shifts more towards Bunting’s murderous exploits, the tone remains even. It’s as though what’s happening is no surprise at all, just the natural outgrowth of this toxic brew of poverty, rage and sickening abuse.

Well before Bunting enters the picture, Kurzel (using a baggy script by Shaun Grant that’s heavily based on two nonfiction accounts) has fully immersed viewers in the raggedly knockabout life of single mother Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris, appropriately depressive). She’s raising her three boys in a sketchy neighborhood with little money and an apparent inability to see when they’re being victimized. This becomes obvious early on, when we witness all three of them being photographed in their underwear by Elizabeth’s boyfriend. (A quietly harrowing scene shows him sitting down naked at the kitchen table after whatever abuse he’s put the boys through, and calmly smoking a cigarette as though nothing has happened.)

The film focuses in on the oldest of the boys, teenage Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), whose preternaturally silent and serene composure belies the torture he’s endured—later developments illustrate other horrid abuses at the hands of a family member. He’s the target of much too much attention when Bunting (Daniel Henshall) shows up as Elizabeth’s bearded, cheery new amour. A seemingly cherubic presence who shines a light into the Harveys’ downcast, narcotized existence, Bunting becomes both the dad they don’t ever seem to have had and the fun ringleader they need.

Kurzel peels back the veneer on Bunting’s charm with agonizing gradualism, a task made all that easier by Henshall’s riveting and revelatory work. His play with the boys becomes tinged with anger—a kindly scene of him buying ice-cream cones takes a different turn when he instructs them to use it to write angry messages on the windows of their abuser. Then Elizabeth’s kitchen table is turned into an unofficial neighborhood meeting center where Bunting, alternately slyly manipulative and viciously bullying, churns up opinions on what Inquisition-like punishments should be meted out to child abusers. This pivots from talk to action all too smoothly, with the vigilante passions of Bunting and some quiet compatriots quickly redirected into sheer homicidal homophobia. Jamie hovers on the periphery, shell-shocked by trauma and unable to peel himself away. Staggering outside as a murder is being committed, he sits on the porch, looking at children riding their bikes, blithely unaware of the horror occurring just feet away.

The style of The Snowtown Murders is elliptical in the extreme, with relationships and motivations left unexplained and plenty of details only barely sketched in, frustrating those looking here for any kind of true-crime drama. But Henshall’s career-making performance, soft-eyed yet cold-hearted, brings a tight focus to every scene he’s in. Kurzel shoots everything in a sickly blue pallor that brings a clammy unease to even the most innocuous scenes. The backdrops of skuzzy backyards and graffiti-splattered walls combine with most of the characters’ depressive rootlessness to create the perfect kind of despairing atmosphere where a charismatic brute like Henshall’s Bunting could run wild.
A star is born, darkly.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Young & Beautiful
Film Review: Young & Beautiful

Like a cinematic Scheherezade, François Ozon continues to hypnotize us with his masterful storytelling in this deliciously voyeuristic phase of his career, this time showcasing a true overnight star, the exquisite Marine Vacth.
 More »

Blue Ruin
Film Review: Blue Ruin

An effective regional crime drama in the key of Jeff Nichols, but lacking his emotional and thematic complexity. More »

The German Doctor
Film Review: The German Doctor

Ambitious and handsomely produced imagining of a short period in the early 1960s when Nazi fugitive Dr. Josef Mengele disappeared incognito into an infamous Argentinian haven for Germans. This intriguing drama benefits from the monstrous anti-hero at its center and the spectacular on-location scenery where he finds refuge. More »

Desert Riders
Film Review: Desert Riders

Powerful documentary about child-worker trafficking that provided underage jockeys for Arabian camel racing indicts not only the rich exploiters but the uneducated parents who unwittingly but not unwillingly made their children fodder. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Transcendence
Film Review: Transcendence

Johnny Depp is an idealistic researcher whose consciousness is uploaded into an artificial intelligence in this slick techno-thriller with delusions of seriousness from Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer. More »

Draft Day
Film Review: Draft Day

Pro football manager faces crises on the most important day of his career in a well-tooled vehicle for Kevin Costner. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here