Saturday, May 28, 2011

First Thoughts on 'Snowtown'

Having just seen Snowtown, the much discussed debut feature from Justin Kurzel, I am currently unsure how to judge my experience. This extremely unsettling Australian drama is based on the true events surrounding the 'Bodies in the Barrels' murders in Adelaide from the late 1990's. Receiving near-unanimous praise after its screening at Cannes earlier in the month, and picking up a special mention at Critic's Week, Snowtown was the centre of controversy during the week when prominent Australian entertainment editor, Richard Wilkins, ended his scathing review with a rating of zero stars.

He says: "I think it is the most disgusting, horrific, depraved and degrading film I have ever seen. This is as close to a snuff movie as I ever want to see. I don't care if it's rooted in truth or not, it's appalling. I've seen it so you don't have to." 

In his review, he does raise some genuine concerns regarding the unjustified gratuity of the violence, but the film refrains from presenting very little on-screen violence. The threat and presence of violence, and other socially unacceptable behaviour is in every vein of this film, though. I'm not familiar with the events, though I was alive at the time, but communities and individuals like the ones presented here, sadly exist in this country.

You will experience no enjoyment from watching this film. It is distressing, uncomfortable viewing and one of the ugliest portrayals of a vulnerable Australian community I have ever seen. Surrounding these unlikable people (portrayed mostly by untrained actors) with the most destructive behaviour imaginable, the film is endowed with themes of pedophilia, prejudice, irrational paranoia, drug abuse, animal cruelty and murder. All it takes is one man to promise justice on community prejudice for others to be swayed into supporting him.

Reminding me of Josh Cody in Animal Kingdom, Jamie Vlassakis was the socially awkward youngster swayed by the self-righteousness of outspoken members of the community. With a throbbing soundtrack, impeccable direction and fantastic performances (especially Daniel Henshall as John Bunting), this is certainly one of the best films I have seen this year. I would argue it is better than last year's Animal Kingdom. Right now, I can't write a feature length review for this film, because I am unsure how to proceed. I'll leave it UNRATED presently.

*Update 29/05: I have decided to give the film a rating of 4 Stars. One of the best Australian films I have seen in some time, but one I will likely never watch again.


  1. andy, good job with this one, im not sure you need a full review after that. i found it pretty thorough and evoked a lot of imagery. enough to help decide if i ever want to even look for it.

    however i must ask, thematically how similar is it to something like funny games?

  2. Thanks! Yeah it is certainly one worth seeing for a very distressing look at one of the darkest periods of modern Australian history. But I'm not recommending it on any other level than to respect it as a bold cinematic endeavor. It's based on true events so it develops the motivations of this murderer and his accomplices. Different from Funny Games, though often as uncomfortable to watch!