The Snowtown Murders

Dir: Justin Kurzel, 2011. Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens, Louise Harris, Daniel Henshall. Mystery-Thriller.
The Snowtown Murders

There is something quite terrifying about cult mentalities or any person—peaceful or otherwise—who can catch the attention, loyalty and obedience of another person or group of people. But where icons like Manson and Jim Jones had the ability to control large masses, real-life mastermind John Bunting closed in on a desperate and disadvantaged family. It could be argued that the group mentality gave Mason and Jones some assistance in the brainwashing process, but to destroy a family without any real dogma is miraculous and, to me, far more tragic.

The rights to make the film were released shortly before the film was made in 2011 and, most likely, were difficult to come by. It surrounds the true story of a family in the run-down suburb of Adelaide in Sailsbury North, Australia. Elizabeth (Louise Harris) is the mother of four sons, several of whom are being sexually abused by her boyfriend. The oldest, Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), is exposed to countess accounts of depravity and violence in the house and desperately needs an outlet. In comes John (Daniel Henshall), the handsome and outspoken lad who hates pedophiles and homosexuals and urges the family to stand up and lash out at her former boyfriend.

However, running him out of town is not enough for John. He conducts several drunken gatherings with Elizabeth and locals that more or less become vocal lynch-mobs against pedophiles. He narrows in on the boys' psyche, focusing on their weakness and shame until the oldest, Jamie, comes to see him not only as a father figure but as someone who offers a solution to his problems. Before long John is Elizabeth's new boyfriend and a centerpiece for the family. His gatherings soon introduce a list of confirmed and/or rumored sex offenders who are on his fantasized hit list. In a terrifying and swift time frame his talk becomes reality as he, along with friends and Jamie, begin torturing and executing the accused individuals. As his blood-lust grows stronger, so does his sense of power—concluding in a brutal and fatal end to anyone who opposes his mission.

For those with a weak stomach, this film is most certainly not for you. But for those who can be captivated by violence to the point where it not only penetrates but makes one think about the thin line between humane and savage, I highly recommend this film. Violence, for many underprivileged societies, is a quick fix to many problems. War, in many cases, can be something that decides who is right and who is wrong (depending on who wins.) At least that's what those on the frontlines may have come to believe. But in many places around the world there are small wars being raged based on basic principles—with leaders just as ruthless as any king or dictator. This element of the universal sentiment to “purify” or cleanse an area of supposed evil by any means necessary is a worldwide witch-hunt that has no end. The relevancy of this and the images of torture, which we all know is justified even in the most “civilized” of nations, is what gives the film such a gut-wrenching affect.

While I would like to speak in great lengths about every cast member, the truth is that the vast majority are locals who have never acted in their lives. In his first directorial feature, Justin Kurzel wanted to recreate a place and a time that he was familiar with (being from the same suburb)—and without a doubt, this was a success. Needless to say, Henshall's portrayal of John is one of the most stoic, bone-chilling reinventions of a psychopath that deserves more praise than I can muster. Although many of the scenes involving Bunting were shot in a stylish and bare-bones way that only enhanced the documentary feel of the film, Henshall's performance carried it to a chilling and flawless end.

For contemporary films surrounding serial killers and their impact on a community it doesn't get any better than Snowtown. It's also a melancholic exercise in the quest for manhood and the want of paternal affection that breathes life into a film that quite literally surrounds death in its most gruesome form. Highly recommended.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jul 12, 2013 2:37pm
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