From the outset, Snowtown offers little in the way of a reprieve from its bleak outlook.
Chronicling one of the most disturbing chapters in Australian crime history, Justin Kurzel’s debut feature focuses on events that unfolded between 1992 and 1999, in which a small group of individuals murdered twelve people in the Adelaide area.
To this day the crimes remain the worst serial killings in Australian history and Kurzel’s film reflects a deeply unsettling portrait of a group of almost universally reprehensible characters.
Sixteen year-old Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) lives with his mother and two younger brothers in a deprived Adelaide suburb. Regularly subjected to abuse at the hands of a local child molester, their lives improve when their mother begins a relationship with John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), an outspoken bigot who believes that people should take the law in to their own hands when it comes to dealing with sex offenders.
Bunting appears to offer a solution to the family’s problems and Jamie is immediately drawn to his sense of conviction as he goes about delivering his own form of tough justice. Over time, however, Jamie witnesses an even darker side to Bunting’s twisted worldview, and before long he is inescapably drawn into a malicious world of bigotry, self-righteousness and murder.
From the outset, Snowtown offers little in the way of a reprieve from its bleak outlook. The bloodletting is minimal throughout and, rightly, Kurzel doesn’t seek to revel in violence. But the film’s ominous tone and, in particular, the looming threat of violence are unremitting, building to a disturbing climax that makes for extremely distressing viewing.
Whilst performances are strong throughout – Henshall in particular delivers one of the most chilling performances of the year – Snowtown’s lack of clear-cut protagonists and shocking content make it difficult to relate to on any level.
The end result is a film that lands itself in a moral grey area, comprised of characters that can only really be defined as perpetrators and victims. Kurzel’s intention is to depict the events that took place rather than offer judgement but he treads a dangerous line between explaining Vlassakis’ involvement and, to an extent, vindicating him for it.
Australia’s worst serial killings realised on film. This is hardly going to be uplifting stuff.
A perpetually ominous tone eventually gives way to a prolonged scene of torture. Harrowing doesn’t quite cover it.
Thought provoking, but leeringly nasty and deeply unsettling. This is one that will linger with you for days.