The Snowtown murders (aka The Bodies in Barrels Murders) occurred in South Australia between 1992-1999. The main perpetrator John Bunting, recruited various friends and acquaintances to assist in the disposing of undesirable types such as paedophiles, homosexuals and junkies. Their victims were often subjected to prolonged torture with assorted household implements and electrocution before death. Newcomer Justin Kurzel with his cast of untrained actors has attempted to bring the crimes back to life with his first feature film, Snowtown.
The opening scenes are all about establishing the grim atmosphere that is to pervade the following 2 hours and they do so effortlessly, capturing that hopelessly scummy feel of the welfare-reliant hordes. We are introduced to Jamie Vlassakis, his brothers and their solo mum Elizabeth, essentially poor white trash living in a rundown area of suburban Australia. Not long after their mother leaves them with a neighbour, who subsequently abuses and takes nude photographs of the boys, friendly John Bunting starts hanging around the house and eventually becomes Elizabeth’s live-in boyfriend.
The first thing John makes clear is that he fucking hates paedophiles, so with the boys help (and some mashed ‘roo offal) he terrorizes the aforementioned neighbour into moving. Regular gatherings are held at Elizabeth’s home where John riles up the locals with his scathing anti-paedo rhetoric and attempts to provoke them into action. The murders seemingly begin as a continuation of John’s heroic vigilantism, merely dispatching local kiddie fiddlers, but then degenerate into frenzied lust-murders as John starts taking out acquaintances and generally anyone who gets in his way.
An interesting aspect of how the director handled this story is that it is told from Jamie’s perspective; we witness his struggles with first identifying a father figure in Bunting then being forced to assist with the killings, including that of his step-brother. Another unexpected angle is that the film is less concerned with gruesome, splatter-y serial murder and more about the mundane human side of it. So there are numerous scenes of familial blandness, which add infinitely to the overall bleak mood. And that’s not to say there aren’t confronting scenes of torture and violence, but that when they do appear they have that much more impact.
Utilizing an unprofessional cast (aside from Daniel Henshall who plays Bunting) was an astute foresight on Kurzels behalf, as the film would have been completely laughable had it starred the usual suspects from Neighbours, Home and Away, etc. Kurzel’s attention to detail in reproducing the dated ’90s fashion, having a Sega Master System constantly chirping away in the background, and references to swish new Nike Air’s enhances the already vivid ambiance as well.
With Snowtown director Justin Kurzel has crafted an incredibly dark and authentic piece of filmmaking that, via evocative cinematography, sparse sound design and flawless acting – and without resorting to over-the-top shock tactics – manages to infuse the proceedings with a harsh tone of realism that will stay with you long after the screen’s gone black.
Extras-wise, aside from the requisite commentary, trailer and deleted scenes, there’s a short film, Blue Tongue, that stars a young Sianoa Smit-McPhee (Neighbours, Hung) as a vindictive little girl trying to attract a boys attention. There’s also 2 music videos directed by Kurzel for The Mess Hall, a short featurette on the Snowtown Murders and a 20 minute interview with the director.