Film Review: Snowtown

Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown is a grim but compelling drama. The film takes an interesting perspective on events, one that leaves enough ambiguity to keep viewers on their toes.

Teenager Jamie lives with his mother and his brothers in an Adelaide suburb. After Jamie had his brothers fall victim to an abuser, his mother introduces new people into the family home. Among them is John Bunting, a charismatic guy who Jamie begins to look up to. There is, however, a much darker side to John…

Snowtown is an incredibly bleak film. This does not distract from how compelling it is. Justin Kurzel and co-writer Shaun Grant have wisely decided to depict proceedings through the protagonist Jamie. This works well, as viewers are able to empathise with the teenager, and are able to understand why Jamie is in John’s thrall. It is an interesting perspective as the focus is not solely on John Bunting and the crimes that he committed. Rather, Snowtown concentrates on his relationship with the family and his influence on Jamie.

The portrayal of John Bunting is not one dimensional in the least. Instead, it is totally believable that Jamie would be in awe of the character, given John’s personality and John’s background. There is a rationale to John’s crimes to begin with, even though the crimes themselves are unsavoury. It is only as the film unfolds that his motives become blurred. The horror of both the crimes and his mindset gradually become apparent; John is not a monster to begin with. Similarly, Jamie has equal depth. This makes both the character and his perspective fascinating. There is a helplessness to him that is sad and disturbing.

A film about a serial killer is expected to be violent. Yet much of the violence in Snowtown is implied rather than overtly depicted. Sound is integral to the film at all times. The sound of torture and murder in some scenes is searing, whilst the score is used sparingly, but to great effect. The handheld camera suits the tone of the film. The cinematography captures the dankness of surroundings.

Lucas Pittaway is convincingly as the introverted as Jamie. Pittaway is believable throughout the film, and is especially strong in the more disturbing scenes. Daniel Henshall is superb as John Bunting. The actor captures the various sides to his personality exceptionally well.

Snowtown may prove too heavy-going for some viewers. Most will find the film engaging and certainly a worthwhile watch.