By Hemanth Kissoon
“He’s my fucking friend and you killed him,” Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) to John Bunting (Daniel Henshall).
Brilliant serial killer films don’t come round very often. SNOWTOWN is one. But very different. Emotionally gruelling and almost unwatchable in places. A masterful directorial debut. The second great Aussie crime flick of the year after ANIMAL KINGDOM. A thumping soundtrack straightaway. Menacing. There’s narration as the camera roves over the countryside. What looks to be a lovely family dynamic with a mother, sons and her new boyfriend Jeffrey, turns quickly into something disturbing and unsettling as it is revealed that Jeffrey is sexually abusing the three younger sons. When it’s brought to the attention of the mother, Elizabeth, the confrontational scene is as forceful as you’d imagine. Quiet intensity epitomises SNOWTOWN with menace pervading every frame, only broken with extreme violence. Oh yeah, and this is based on a true story.
It looks to be a poor community. The cinematography is drained of vitality, emphasising bleakness and hopelessness. More people come into this family’s lives, and it gradually becomes clear that the focus will be John, who we watch chop of a dead kangaroo head, fill a bucket with heads and offal, and then chuck it on Jeffrey’s house. Jeffrey leaves the area. John and his gang then start targeting other suspected child molesters, torturing and killing them. We witness friends and family discussing round a table what they would do to such people. The film ostensibly invites us to engage with the conversations. Within this cacophony of rage, there is a rare moment peace, of beautiful slow motion dancing. Short lived. We then see Troy rape Jamie, his own brother. My notes during the screening read, “This is fu*king grim.” Jamie has been brutalised, and John takes him under his wing. SNOWTOWN is about, among other things, role models, and opportunity, and the ability to escape.
One of the hardest scenes to watch is what happens to Troy. It forces an audience to think about justice. Eventually the motivations of John and his gang murdering and brutalising evolve and are bastardised. It is not clear whether their victims are perpetrators. SNOWTOWN is sadistic, almost overwhelmingly moving, and thoughtful, a rare combination. One of the year’s best surely?