Snowtown (2011)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Justin Kurzel
Writers Justin Kurzel, Shaun Grant
Starring Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway, Louise Harris, Craig Coyne, Richard Green
Genre Psycho
Tagline None listed
15 second cap John Bunting and friends cull the bogan herd for fun and profit


Jamie lives in the socially depressed Northern Suburbs of Adelaide and is pretty much a victim in all sense of the word. Following a neighbor doing a bit of paedophile photography during a baby sitter deal the seemingly charming John Bunting enters the lives of Jamie and his family. John sorts out the neighbor, say hello to Skippy, and then sets out to sort out anyone else who pisses him off in increasingly disturbing fashion.

As the body count mounts, strange trips to the remote Snowtown happen, and the backyard gets dug up, Jamie is gradually dragged into John's twisted world. With Ray and Barry helping to cull the Bogan herd one wonders where it's going for Jamie.

Snowtown launched out of the blocks like a shot from a well primed shotgun into an bus load of innocent Catholic school girls, with about the same results. Audiences were split, a lot of walkouts from Kurzel's nihilistic vision, and the increasingly insignificant Richard Wilkins had a brain spasm after viewing. Pity Wilkins and his inane television colleagues influence the mouth breathers who make up their viewing segment. Actually Wilkins followers are hardly likely to go catch a local movie anyway unless it has been sanitized for their apparent viewing pleasure, read an Aussie version of a Hollywood cookie cutter. In the wash-up Kurzel throws up a mirror to Wilkins' followers who probably are fired up on to many cigarettes and cups of international blend instant coffee to recognise they are being shown their own reflections.

Justin Kurzel delivers one of the best local movies of 2011.

Kurzel clearly hits the fly on the wall, realistic approach, that helps deliver a chilling portrayal of one of Australia's more notorious psychopaths, John Bunting. We're not talking "found footage" but more in your face close up documentary style film making. The Director captures the share anger and powerlessness of the socially disposed and presents a view of their lives that highlights the inward looking going nowhere horror of the situation. The only character trying to improve himself in any way ironically becomes Bunting's final victim as Kurzel underlines the ability of the mouth breathers to eat their own. It's powerful stuff which while being Snowtown's strongest aspect also unfortunately proves to be it's Achilles' heel.

Nowhere in Snowtown is the audience presented with a single character with any sort of redeeming feature. There's no one for the viewer to root for, just lost the bogan hordes there Kurzel, as the Director portrays increasingly dysfunctional social settings. In effect Kurzel indicates the locals, lacking anything like intelligence, become easy prey for John Bunting's sociopathic leanings. Anyone who doesn't fit with Bunting's narrow views are potential victims, including members of Jamie's family. So not only the paedophiles become targets, but also the drug users, trannies, and about anyone who Bunting takes a dislike to. The local society is so insular in it's outlook that the outsider is easy to spot and you get the feeling the general consensus would have been they get exactly what they deserve.

Through various meal time scenes Kurzel underlines his primary message, while Bunting is a psychopath, he can only live out his fantasy through the support of both his murderous crew and the tacit agreement of those living in the area. The principle message being no one is safe from the supposed justice being dealt out by an increasingly deranged Robin Hood gone wrong. Even Jamie's mother takes part in at least one murder, it remains surprising that at no stage did any of the local denizens recognise the monsters in their midst. The full extent of Bunting's activities only became apparent after a routine Police investigation in Snowtown, local Adelaide residents were notable in their ability to turn a blind eye to strange comings, goings, and people vanishing.

The movie is told from the viewpoint of Jamie himself, a character so lacking in the will to fight back against those who make him a victim, that he becomes almost a clean slate for Bunting to write on. The Audience learns about Bunting gradually as Jamie increasingly becomes a part of his thirst for victims. While this is an acceptable approach, Jamie is perhaps too weak a character to take the role of Audience point of view. Since Jamie simply reacts to what is going on and doesn't seem to have his own opinion beyond initial shock we almost hit a documentary approach. Director Kurzel shows a dab hand in setting his movie in an everyday setting, portraying the evil lurking just under the surface, yet allowing the Audience to make their own moral determinations. Actually making your own moral judgement is your only real approach as Jamie seems unable to find any sort of moral compass, and the rest of our characters are either supporting Bunting's endeavours or winding up in a barrel.

Kurzel continues a fine Australia trend of building nihilistic views of our society and filling those views with memorable yet somehow abhorrent characters. There's simply no one in Snowtown who elicits Audience sympathy or empathy. Even the characters who aren't explicitly involved in Buntings' activities still managed to come off as somehow sub-human with little in the way to recommend them. As Kurzel portrays it, Jamie's world is full of people who don't have much in the way of ambition or any interesting aspect to their personalities, but who are only too prepared to accept and promote Buntings' narrow world outlook and identify people around them who may or may not be paedophiles.

Perhaps the other memorable aspect of Snowtown is the oppressive nature of the urban wasteland Jamie and his family inhabit. The movie almost appears to be in black or white, at best shades of grey, as Bunting and his brutal sidekick torture victims, dig graves in backyards, or otherwise tune up their activities. Kurzel heightens his atmosphere of an oppressive environment that could harbour a monster such as Bunting to superb results. Perhaps the closest comparison I could make would to John Hillcoat's excellent The Road (2009). The characters populating Kurzel's movie might be despicable, but the environment around them hardly comprises the ideal living space.

As opposed to Wilkins dummy spite I can report that while Kurzel is prepared to throw some claret at the screen we're not talking a gorenography outing here. Nihilism is going to put off some viewers but you needn't worry about a movie that sets up to slop blood on the screen.

I must admit I had been anticipating Snowtown since the movie was announced, when it finally arrived on disc Kurzel delivered on the goods. While nihilism isn't everyone's cup of tea, it was working like a cold beer on a hot day for yours truly. An excellent movie that gets a full recommendation, Kurzel delivers a classic of Australian cinema.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Bleak and uncompromising, Snowtown delivers on all fronts.