Sunday, 8 July 2012

Snowtown

***
This haunting debut from director Justin Kurzel deals with a series of grisly murders in South Australia in the late nineties, seen through the eyes of 16 year-old Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway).

Charismatic psychopath John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) heads the small group responsible for the killings. When he goes out with Jamie’s mum (Louise Harris) he becomes part of an already-problematic family. He proceeds to be just the wrong kind of father figure the boy needs. Paedophilia seems to be on the rise in the area so Bunting offers the family protection and leads the local community in doing something about it. All the while he has a dark agenda of his own.

The film eschews much exposition for the sake of an extremely economic script. Keeping the details lean is good in some ways. For example, it creates a haunting atmosphere and shocking events appear out of the blue with little or no build-up. But it often lacks the requisite information to make sense of the story. However, seeing it from Jamie’s point of view means you are only allowed glimpses of what is occurring thus giving an incomplete view of events. So just like Jamie we are often left, appropriately, in the dark. Although this technique may be intended, I’m guessing it also may have sustained substantial cuts. For example, in one scene Jamie is seen to have been injecting heroin and this is treated as nothing new but we see no progress towards something so significant. Saying that, it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking. This violence - handled so casually in such a realistic environment - chilled me to the bone. The poor suburb in which the film is set is captured with a beautiful trashiness and the cast lends further authenticity. Pittaway gives a very mature performance for such a young man and Henshall is thoroughly believable as the seductive bad guy who takes him under his wing.

Following in the footsteps of Animal Kingdom this is another fresh and fascinating look into the Aussie criminal underbelly making British and American criminals look a little tired in comparison. It is a rich vein that I hope will get tapped much further.

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