Duration: 119 mins
The most recent success to emerge from Australia has undoubtedly been 2010's Animal Kingdom, which gained an Oscar nomination amidst some very positive thoughts from the critics. Its visceral, hard-hitting and utterly raw look at real life events aren't dissimilar to what we see in Justin Kurzel's Snowtown.
However, what we witness more explicitly here is the unforgiving nature of the narrative and just how believably unnerving it is: a number of scenes will have you squeamishly refraining from the more graphic moments of what is essentially a very difficult film to watch. The other applicable comparison is to Eric Bana's role in Chopper, as both come across as enthralling, yet disturbing at times.
Based on the true murderous past of Australia's most notorious serial killer, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), the film documents his life as well as those around him that he affects during this blood-stained legacy: his wife, her children – specifically Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) – as well as Bunting’s associates, who later become accomplices; we are dragged into the family home that shocks from the very beginning.
Depending on your approach to films based on reality, you might benefit from reading up on the subject matter prior to the film: it will provide a clearer idea as to what takes place off-screen, as Kurzel prefers to remain – at times – ambiguous regarding the subject matter. In fact, characters and locations are seldom introduced and are done so with a nonchalant vagueness unsuited to traditional narrative structure. This works well in the context of the intimate and intrusive style of the direction: we see what the characters see, especially during times of discussion and violence, too. Snowtown is voyeuristic as we pry into this convoluted family set-up. The camera intrudes on the unforgiving, shocking nature of the narrative, forcing audiences to tolerate an uncut, uncensored grimness that defines the movie.
The story progresses at a slow and imbalanced pace, yet feels oddly at ease with the portrayal of the leads and indeed the events that take place. At times the experience feels a little mundane, but that merely serves effectively to contrast the more gruelling and extreme scenes that are hard to absorb.
Snowtown is a brutal, no holds barred depiction of the life of a notoriously brutal criminal. The honesty of Bunting is unhinged, as Henshall portrays the real-life killer with a chilling realism. However, praise should be awarded to Pittaway, whose young, vulnerable victim is the surprise performance. Gripping and wholly unsettling throughout, it's perhaps what isn't shown that proves most powerful of all.