Snowtown (2011)

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2016.6: Snowtown (Blu ray)

John Bunting is Australia’s most notorious serial killer, who between August 1992 and May 1999 killed 11 people, the crimes uncovered only when barrels containing human remains were discovered in an abandoned bank vault by police investigating missing persons cases.

Snowtown is a thoroughly nasty film. Its just, well, horrible. I wouldn’t call it entertainment at all and doubt I’ll ever have the inclination to watch it again. Did director Justin Kurzel aim for this effect when he made the film? If so he succeeded brilliantly, but I wonder if this kind of film-making should be commended or damned. The nearest thing I can compare this film to is Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (another film I managed to watch once and never again).  Of course its perfectly logical- any film that attempts to get into the mind of a serial killer is going to be disturbing. But this is something else. Bunting didn’t act alone. He had help from friends. Snowtown displays the absolute dark side of humanity- a humanity of prejudice and hate and ignorance. It depicts with chilling efficiency a squalid underclass that is alienated and amoral, and the film seems to be as much about the dismal Australian suburb of Snowtown that gives the film its name, and the people within it, as it is about Bunting and the murders. I wouldn’t even describe the film as particularly graphic regards the murders themselves.Most of it is off-camera, left to the imagination. Maybe that makes it all the more disturbing.

Maybe if the story was just fiction it would be ok, but this stuff really happened. The reality of it hangs its awful shadow over everything depicted, you just can’t avoid it, particularly with everything being presented so…  so efficiently. Besides which, there is a scene in which Bunting hands sixteen-year-old Jamie a gun and tells him to shoot dead his dog. Well, I nearly stopped the film right there. Bad enough scenes of molestation, rape and buggery etc, but as a dog owner I find such cruelty to animals particularly harrowing.

Performances are excellent, the cast of unknowns looking like real people rather than actors, which gives the film a grim air of reality- there is a feel of the camera being present at real, spontaneous events rather than something staged (which just makes it all the uglier). In particular Daniel Henshall, who plays Bunting,  gives a remarkable performance that I’d ordinarily praise and state as a reason to watch the film. Unfortunately though the ugliness of the film outweighs Henshall’s achievement – Snowtown is such a thoroughly depressing and distressing film that I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s certainly not entertainment, not in my book.