It’s an exceedingly grim story, but first-time director Justin Kurzel ensures that its treatment on screen is far from sensationalist. Kurzel and writer Shaun Grant don’t focus primarily on murderer John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) but on the people who fell under his sway and helped him carry out his crimes in the rundown working-class suburbs of northern Adelaide. Playing on local real and imagined fears of paedophiles, the charismatic Bunting managed to draw others into his web, including susceptible 16-year-old fatherless boy Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), who provides the film’s perspective on the grisly events. Seen through Jamie’s eyes, Bunting’s sly manipulation of his fearful accomplices is chillingly plausible. As for the crimes themselves, most take place off screen and between scenes – a terrifyingly protracted murder excepted. Yet even when the violence isn’t shown, a mood of clammy dread and horror pervades the film.
Snowtown is extremely tough to watch, but it’s worth the effort, if you have the stomach, thanks to the gritty authenticity brought by the largely local, non-professional cast (Henshall is the only experienced actor) and the filmmakers’ social and psychological insights into the banality of evil.
On general release from Friday 18th November.
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