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Posted on the 18 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost


Lucas Pittaway as Jamie in Snowtown. Promotional still.

Snowtown, directed by Justin Kurzel, is the director’s debut film. It’s about the most notorious serial killer in Australia, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), and his relationship with 16 year old Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway). In real life, Bunting is serving 11 life sentences without parole for his role in the murder of 11 people.

The film takes it from Jamie’s point of view: he is a troubled teen, plagued by dreams and abused by his mother’s boyfriend. When this is found out, Bunting, a charismatic sociopath, enters into Jamie’s life as his mother’s (played by Louise Harris) new man, and begins to rule over the household, and the whole community, building up anti-paedophile (which for him is pretty much synonymous with homosexual) sentiment. He’s like some kind of horrible spider, drawing people into his web.

Bunting and Jamie throw ice-cream cones at people’s houses; but soon graduate to dead kangaroo parts. Jamie becomes enthralled by Bunting; however his suspicions about the latter’s real activities are aroused, and he starts to question his loyalties to this weird father figure. Critics are saying it’s one of the most fascinating and technically brilliant films in years: the consensus being that it’s incredibly wrenching, but you’ve got to go and see it. Periscope can add that, having seen the trailer, it’s feeling more than a little jumpy.

Parodic paterfamilias. It’s a “docu-Jacobean nightmare”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, “well made but gruesome.” The fact that it reveals little about the killer’s motives makes it more disturbing. Pittaway has a “bovine vulnerability”, and the film is really about the relationship between Jamie and John, with John as “parodic paterfamilias.” Henshall is also “very good.”

“If you think a chihuahua emerging from someone’s neck is troubling, try Jamie’s life,” said Tim Robey, commenting on a dream Jamie tells at the beginning of the film.

Astute psychology. Tim Robey in The Daily Telegraph was ecstatic, saying that the best thing about it was how Kurzel’s “searing technique” and “expertise with actors” really got under his skin. He would, however, tell his parents to avoid it “like rabies.” There are some terribly violent scenes, including one in a bathtub (“involving the extraction of toenails”). Louise Harris is “astonishing.” It’s very hard to watch this film; but “the psychology’s so astute” that you can’t. They should put on the poster: “Unmissable, if you dare.”

Nerve-shredding. The pacing is “remorseless”, said Nigel Floyd in Time Out, and the electronic score has a “pulsing drive.” The film’s portrayal of the “marginalised community” is excellent, too. Henshall’s the only professional actor in the film – and the others do a sensitive and moving job. There’s good use of “slow motion and speeded-up images”, leading to “nerve-shredding psychological tension.”

Best of all time. CJ Johnson on ABC Australia said it’s an “instant classic”, immediately deserving a place in the “ten best Australian films of all time,” as well as being one of the most “unsettling” he’d ever seen.

Confusing? But it can be a little confusing, said Colin Kennedy in Metro – for instance when Bunting makes Jamie shoot his Alsatian – and then the next scene shows him playing with an Alsatian. Did he go out and buy another one? Kennedy wasn’t sure. Also, unless you know about the murders that took place in Australia in the late Nineties, you’re “never entirely clear what’s going on” – and this isn’t helped by the fact that it’s seen entirely from Jamie’s point of view. However, the atmosphere is “chilling”, and Henshall is “mesmerising.”

Watch the trailer – if you dare

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