2011 | Justin Kurzel
Snowtown is almost as hard to write about as it is to watch. It is unrelentingly bleak, depressing and persistent in its vision to leave us stranded and helpless. Daniel Henshall is captivating as John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer, responsible for the deaths of eleven people and sentenced to eleven consecutive life sentences without the possibility for parole. Basing all opinion stated simply from the film, Bunting is, bluntly, an evil man; the true definition of a psychopath. Henshall captures the charismatic demeanour of Bunting perfectly, as he intrigues Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) and the viewer to the point of grim tragedy.
Jamie is hardly our protagonist; if anything, he is inherently one of the weakest, most pathetic characters ever. Raped by his mother’s boyfriend and his own brother, instead of fighting back, Jamie appears resigned to life as a victim. Given the apparent absence of any police investigations, it certainly does seem that out here, we are left alone to deal with our own problems. John enters the frame as a father-figure to Jamie (and the rest of the boys), and becomes somewhat of a lover to their mother as well, albeit only to garner influence with any weak individuals he can, Jamie being the easiest target.
“Do you like being fucked?” is what John asks Jamie after he learns of his rape, leaving Jamie with the unenviable scenario of fighting back, Bunting style. Pedophiles, rapists, homosexuals, drug addicts. Anyone with a weakness is a weak person and will leave a poor legacy behind for the human race, so they must go. This is the John Bunting model, communicated through regular neighbourhood watch meetings, and justified after he murders a friend of Jamie’s, whom happened to be a drug addict.
The film is grey and the neighbourhood decrepit and ugly. Every house is unkempt, the streets are bare and Elizabeth (Louise Harris), Jamie’s mother, doesn’t even own a car. She is seen pushing a trolley full of groceries home, that’s how impoverished this neighbourhood is. Spending most of their days at home, the characters spend the majority of their time smoking. In fact, John is the only of-age character never seen with a cigarette. He is also seen with food a lot more than many of the other characters, even the family he lives with. Does he hold himself higher than those he is with? Do they not deserve the same quality meals he eats, knowing they lack the means to acquire them? They are all weak people to John, merely accomplices in his greater plan of ridding the world of these very people.
What makes the film so difficult to watch is its fundamental lack of positivity or audience payoff. Never do we get the victory we want and after witnessing one of the most grisly and unpleasant torture/murder sequences ever, we are left without want of such a victory. No one deserves to be beaten and tortured. No one deserves their life to be taken from them. Not even people we as a society consider to be “monsters” – pedophiles and the like. Jamie comes close to calling the police, but then stops: he would rather survive under the tutelage of John than forever play the victim.
Many things in the film go unexplained and major events are made to become insignificant and unexplained. Director Justin Kurzel invests heavily in mood and atmosphere, forgoing details of exposition. Any event could be substituted with something else and we would still leave feeling like we were just punched in the stomach. The film is an endurance test, the kind of film which doesn’t automatically warrant a desire for a second viewing. Much of the appreciation of its brilliance surfaces later, when the original gut-punch feeling has worn off, and we’ve had a drink of water and a breather. Exactly like an endurance test.