directed by Justin Kurzel
It is a rare thing for a film so quiet to terrify me so deeply, but Justin Kurzel’s debut feature about the true story of Australian serial killer John Bunting was a stunner that chilled me to my very core. Afterward, I had to watch the first three seasons of Danger Mouse in their entirety whilst listening to Japandroids to soothe the shock of the first bathroom sequence (during which I nearly hyperventilated myself into a spasm), but Kurzel’s atmospheric classic is a must see, indeed. While Kurzel is very effective in creating atmosphere, and I always respect a film that gives itself room breathe over those that insist on clipping along, I felt the film could use a little tightening up here and there (though I was very satisfied with the purposefully muddled and enmeshed group of characters orbiting the Bunting sun). After doing some research (we don’t hear much about foreign, non-political mass murderers here in the US. We have plenty of our own…), I see that Kurzel isn’t so much concerned with making a point by point docudrama as he is in exploring the world of a psychopath via the Bunting story. Bunting surrounds himself with those he can control, bending people to his will with a smile and a glare that will freeze your blood. Though much credit belongs to Kurzel for his talent, almost equal praise is owed Daniel Henshall, who plays Bunting with the cunning and disarming intensity of a heartless predator. At first glance, he is nothing more than a stout loudmouth, one easily and quickly disregarded in everyday life, but as he feeds (literally and figuratively) young Jamie Vlassakis (a wonderfully muted Lucas Pittaway) his own brand of ideology, we begin to see Bunting as a master manipulator grooming a pupil for his own brand of justice. Bunting’s inner circle is a group of sub-blue collar ne’er-do-wells who bemoan the current state of injustices under which they suffer, guided (by Bunting’s insinuations) to vaguely conclude that someone should take up where the legal system leaves off. One of the big questions Kurzel poses with his film is whether Jamie Vlassakis (who met Bunting as a teenager) was less a collaborator and more a victim in his own rite. Kurzel’s bleak, impoverished Aussie suburb is reminiscent of Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur or Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in that you feel the oppressive weight of this world as it saps even the most sunny optimist's ability to find the good in anything. Snowtown is a dark corridor of the human condition, a film that will bore its way inside and rear up into your conscious mind in unnerving ways. In other words, it’s the kind of film I live to see.