director Justin Kurzel
Based on the grisly true events of serial murder in South Australia in the 1990’s, The Snowtown Murders is a naturalistic, gritty portrayal of human evil. The unusual thing about these serial crimes was that while it was driven by a single man, several people were complicit in the murders, quite a-typical of serial killers generally speaking. But in sitting down to watch the film, I had kind of forgotten a good deal of the facts of the crimes and was watching with relative ignorance of what was to come. Which is typically a good thing.
Watching The Snowtown Murders, though, it might help to know a bit more about the story ahead of time. While it’s hardly any artsy stream-of-consciousness or non-linear narrative, the story is also not spelled out so explicitly that you’d necessarily understand the scope of the crimes or the significance of some of them.
Director Justin Kurzel,using mostly non-professional actors from the area of the film’s events, does a good job depicting a sense of menace in place and character, amid the poverty and mean times of the story. Lucas Pittaway is one of the non-professional cast, playing James Vlassakis, a teenage boy drawn into different levels of human horror by different crimes and different criminals. James and his younger brothers are sexually abused and exploited by a neighbor friend of their mother’s. This spawns an assault of retribution, but not from the boys themselves, but from his mother and her eventual boyfriend, John Bunting (played by Daniel Henshall).
Bunting is the prime instigator. Inspired by his homophobia and hatred for pedophiles, Bunting gave himself (and others) lease to mete out perceived justice in the form of torture killings of anyone to whom he took a dislike. Kurzel depicts James at the center of the story, young, meek, and confused, in a world of tough places and brutal male role models. Not many would be more brutal than Bunting.
Over a period of a number of years, Bunting and his crew tortured and killed at least 12 people, dragging James along, even killing James’ half-brother Troy, who had also sexually molested James. It’s a gruesome story, sad and brutal. But afterward, I found myself wanting to know what really happened. Some of the things happen in stretches of time that mask the reality of it all. And while the acting and overall film are good, I never got a good grasp on the whole. Which I found myself wanting. And which Wikipedia served to clarify.
Australia is like an alternate reality America in a lot of ways.