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Zimbio Review - 'The Snowtown Murders'

Marrakech International Film Festival 2011 -
Australian Actor Daniel Henshall (L) and Director Justin Kurzel "Another Happy Day" red carpet premiere during Marrakech International Film Festival 2011 on December 7, 2011 in Marrakech, Morocco. (Getty Images)more pics » The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Yes.

Why?

A powerful film and savage in its violence, Snowtown is not interested in telling a pretty story. It deals with the worst in people and what they are capable of.
Raw and unnervingly violent, The Snowtown Murders is an attention-worthy debut from Australian director Justin Kurzel. The film is the latest in a line of impressive Aussie films dealing with families and violence which includes The Square and Animal Kingdom. Kurzel's film is based on the true story of the most prolific serial killer in Australia's history and the family he destroyed under the guise of friendship.

Snowtown introduces us to James Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) a 17 year-old who lives with his mother, Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris), and his two brothers. James is a quiet shell of a teenager. He hides behind his scraggly mop of hair and sits around the house. Elizabeth has a boyfriend who lives next door and soon we find out this man has been secretly taking photos of James and his brothers. The camera shows the boys each posing unhappily. There is a disquieting defeat in their eyes.

Drowning in their vapid lives, Elizabeth and her boys find a source of happiness in her new boyfriend, John (Daniel Henshall). John charms the family and takes an immediate liking to James. He is gregarious and easy to be around with his cherubic features and full beard. John is also the head of a small group who meet and talk tough about local pedophiles and homosexuals. The group fancy themselves vigilantes but only John and his right hand man Mark Haydon (David Walker) are actually serious about it.

Warnings that John is potentially psychotic come in the form of killing animals. He chops up dead kangaroos and throws the remains on the ex-boyfriend's doorstep and in a later scene, John forces James to shoot his own dog as proof the boy can stand up for himself. James is so weak-willed he will do anything his new surrogate father asks of him. With nothing in his life, James is being groomed for something larger, something much more evil.

Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw use long
establishing shots combined with Jed Kurzel's haunting score to set the tone of the small-town Aussie suburb. The landscape is wide and empty. In town, the crumbling duplexes scatter the dusty area. There is an overwhelming quiet to the environment. If a murder took place, would anyone even notice?

As John begins his murderous rampage, first killing one of James friends (while telling him, "I'm just looking out for you, mate..") James becomes more and more confused. He refuses to run away, or turn John into the police, so the boy becomes complicit and eventually an accomplice in the future murders. There are two brutal and nearly unwatchable scenes. A member of the family is raped by another member and a victim is tortured and strangled in a bathtub. The stranglation scene lasts a full four minutes as the camera follows James as he watches at first, runs downstairs, and finally assists in the murder. We see the boy's transformation from innocent to willing participant in this telling sequence that serves as a microcosm for the entirety of the film.

The Snowtown Murders is not an easy film to sit through. It's doubtful Kurzel wanted it any other way. The brutality of the killings is impossible to gloss over and the director and his crew set about making a serious and authentic account. Kurzel has accomplished that much and with it, he has arrived as a name to be watched.


See photos of the cast of The Snowtown Murders:
  • Daniel Henshall in "Snowtown" Portrait Session - 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival
  • Daniel Henshall in "Snowtown" Portrait Session - 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival
  • Daniel Henshall in "Snowtown" Portrait Session - 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival
  • Daniel Henshall in "Snowtown" Portrait Session - 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival
  • Daniel Henshall in "Snowtown" Portrait Session - 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival
  • Daniel Henshall in "Snowtown" Portrait Session - 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival
  • Daniel Henshall in "Snowtown" Portrait Session - 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival
  • Daniel Henshall in "Snowtown" Portrait Session - 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival
View Director Justin Kurzel Pictures »
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