Justin Kruzel's remarkable feature debut takes a visceral look at the true story of Australia's worst serial killer, and what the media has dubbed, "the bodies in the barrels" murders. What it reveals is truly horrifying, and equally how mundane it is to those involved. Kurzel's film will haunt and disturb you long after it's over - and given the subject matter, maybe that's how it should be.
The film follows Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris), a mother raising her three boys in a housing trust home in Adelaide's northern suburbs. After her latest boyfriend displays pedophiliac tendencies, she takes up with a new man, hoping for security--but instead welcomes an even more vicious predator into her home. John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) appears at the kitchen table one morning, and seemingly assigns himself the role of father in the family. He starts preparing meals, instilling values, and presenting on the surface a fine father figure for the three boys.
John's friendly demeanor hides a coldness that is unfathomable. It slowly reveals itself at impromptu "neighborhood watch" meetings at the dinner table, where John holds court and proselytizes about the other supposed molesters, perverts, and undesirables in the town. It becomes clear that he wants to rid the village of the people he views as objectionable, and he doesn't find much argument from his neighbors. Soon, talk turns to action. Some neighbors turn a blind eye to his actions, or even go as far as to assist in the crimes themselves. Jamie's involvement goes even further, and turning to the police is never really an option for anyone.
Bunting enlists his crew in acts of sadistic vigilantism on those he considers deviants, and in the process takes Elizabeth's son Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), under his wing. "The Snowtown Murders" is an uncompromising film, which focuses on the relationship between vulnerable teenager and a father figure--who is revealed to be the worst kind of monster. It is the 'relationship' between John and Jaime that is the centerpiece of "The Snowtown Murders"-- the mentor-protégé pairing is in a helpless way, inevitable, because of how easily John manipulates others. Abused and neglected for so long, Jaime can't help but be swayed by anything resembling a father figure, and John's overtures of trying to "toughen up" the boy are a transparent ruse to mold him into an accomplice and disciple.
The combination of Adam Arkapaw's voyeuristic cinematography, the decision to shoot the film in the actual "Snowtown," and a cast of almost entirely non-professional actors, allows the film a unique ability to convey such a devastating, and yet convincing reality. The film generates most of its tension from the uneasiness from its placement of viewpoint, and in terms of violence, what to show, and what to cut away from. "The Snowtown Murders" is distressing and highly disturbing, one of the more difficult films to watch about psychopaths. There are very difficult scenes to sit through. There is no way to understand John Bunting. He is quite simply evil.
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