Sunday 20 November 2011


(Justin Kurzel, 2011)

Kurzel's film, based on the real-life "Snowtown Killings" which shocked and horrified Australia in the late 1990s, is a hypnotic, gruelling study in sustained dread. The genius of it is that the actual horror of the violence and murder is seldom glimpsed - though the few scenes in which it is are agonising and unforgettable - and instead, Kurzel does his work through tone, texture and atmosphere.
He is gifted enough to find the eerie, spartan beauty in the drab Adelaide suburbs, all local authority bungalows, scrubland dotted with rubbish and bowed people smoking in dingy rooms, his compositions and a particular cool palette - sickly yellows, greens and browns, washed out greys and blues - still capturing a world with a realist eye without sacrificing any visual poetry. The pulsing of the tense, disturbing score by Jed Kurzel helps with this, making some of the many scenes filled with quiet, telling but banal dialogue exchanges positively seethe with menace.
The film is split in two. The lead-up to the lead characters discovery that his mothers new boyfriend, John, is a killer; his own involvement in Johns murders and the long, scary aftermath. The second half reels in its own daze, traumatised by the awful horror of the deeds it has recorded, just as our youthful protagonist is. The acting is uniformly excellent, subtle and naturalistic, emotion all locked down and clenched.
If the subject is that old chestnut: the banality of evil, well it's seldom been quite so well treated as it is here. John Bunting is an everyday monster, manipulative, extremely clever in his playing of those around him, targeting the weak and isolated, charming others. He quickly becomes monstrous, and each scene in which he figures in the second half of this film is an ordeal of tension.
It seems amazing that this film comes so soon after another grim Australian crime drama centred on a young man struggling against the influence of a psychopathic patriarchal figure, David Michod's Animal Kingdom.
Both powerful, artful pieces of work, neither a particularly easy watch.
Snowtown never gives the audience an inch, ending not with the apprehension of the killers - which would be cathartic - But with the most sinister, morally conclusive closing of a door in cinema nice the end of The Godfather, followed by some dry captions. It's just a final gut punch after a series of such blows, but you have to admire Kurzel's artistry in delivering such a vicious beating.

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