Between the years 1992-1997, John Bunting, thought by many to be Australia’s worst serial killer, committed a number of murders, choosing victims who were frequently known to him or his three accomplices. The crimes were only discovered when a number of barrels, containing the remains of several of their victims, were found in a former rented bank in Snowtown.
Justin Kurzel’s feature-length directorial debut is a shockingly violent, thoroughly visceral affair; his depiction of the murders and the perpetrators of the crimes is at times too tense to bear. Kurzel’s film depicts the murderers themselves; we see little of the later victims, instead showing the inner-workings of those committing the horrific acts.
Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway), a vulnerable youth is, along with his two younger brothers, subjected to sexual abuse one night whilst his mother is away. The neighbour guilty of the crime quickly finds himself targeted by Bunting; Bunting’s targets are frequently those guilty or suspected of such crimes. Vlassakis’s mother, feeling guilt and anger over her sons’ abuse readily welcomes Bunting and his associates into her home, initially partaking in his diatribes against the unfair nature of the justice system that lets such people roam the streets.
Vlassakis and his family are easily seduced by the promise Bunting represents, an opportunity at a better life, with Jamie willing his mother to not ‘fuck this one up’. Such is Bunting’s charismatic charm that Jamie takes little persuasion to partake in increasingly more questionable actions, eventually culminating in acts beyond redemption.
Bunting, played by a chilling Daniel Henshall, is shown to be a highly capable manipulator: he rapidly steps into acting as the father figure for the Vlassakis boys, taking a vested interest in their days at school, ensuring they are fed properly – Bunting’s healthy meals are in sharp contrast to the earlier meals served by their struggling mother.
The film, despite its subject matter, is not simply spattered with gore, making the moments of extreme violence and torture all the more affecting and deeply shocking. So appalling are these moments that in several screenings, viewers have felt compelled to leave.
Snowtown is deeply disturbing, aided by a flawless cast; both Pittaway and especially Henshall are incredibly magnetic, demanding our attention throughout. Kurzel’s film, in its stark execution is a fine film, Snowtownmakes, as it should given its subject matter, for incredibly uncomfortable viewing, indelibly affecting the viewer.
A stunning film certainly, its impact is best displayed through its haunting manner, its narrative and powerful performances ensuring the film stays with viewer long after its ending.