By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
On May 20th, 1999, eight bodies dissolving in barrels of acid were discovered in a rundown former bank building in the small town of Snowtown,South Australia. This led to the discovery of two more bodies, with another two unsolved cases believed to also be victims of John Bunting and his accomplices, in one of the most high-profile serial killing cases in Australian history. Most of the vital records pertaining to this case had been restricted under court order until the producers of this film successfully petitioned for their public release. I heavily recommend taking advantage and reading up on the case before watching.
The film tells the story of these horrific murders from the point of view of James Vlassakis, the youngest accomplice and chief witness to the prosecution. Since the last two paragraphs defy my abilities to make a joke in good or even moderately bad taste, I’ll take this opportunity to mention that Lucas Pittaway, the kid they get to play him, looks uncannily like a mix between Heath Ledger and Tom Hardy.
Basically, Batman’s worst nightmare
Much like last year’s excellent Animal Kingdom, Snowtown focuses on youth developing in a poisonous atmosphere, but arguably beats it at its game. It throws you right into the grey, apocalyptic white trash neighborhoods of Adelaide and a blindsiding case of pedophilia that sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Soon after, a rare ray of hope shines through when a charistmatic young man, played by Daniel Henshall, befriends the family and slides into the long-vacant father figure role for James and his brothers. This being a dark film about serial killers, that doesn’t last too long.
Henshall is absolutely great, alternating between warm and chilling, sometimes within seconds. The rest of the acting is also very good, but the real star here is the atmosphere the young director, Justin Kurzel, creates. He interweaves music and roving, gorgeous cinematography of Adam Arkapaw with slow, deliberate pacing to create an aura of bleakness and palpable menace that is mesmerizing.
Plus, Willem Dafoe gets to cross-dress again
You’d better be in the mood for something slow and meditative when you watch this. Even if you are, you might find yourself a bit annoyed by how the pacing gets in the way of the storytelling. At times, it can be difficult determining who just died and why, which, while deliberate, can be frustrating. Also, my bricklike American ears can’t understand a word of the Aussie’s hillbilly accent. It doesn’t happen often in the film, but when you rewind twice and still can’t figure out if that was a human language or not, you’ve got a problem.
I think I heard a ‘mate’ in there somewhere.
Australian cinema just keeps churning out beautiful, thought-provoking films. This is one of the best of the bunch, and should provide Hollywood with some more talented cannon-fodder.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time you see a videogame
Take a Drink: whenever another strange or creepy character shows up
Drink a Shot: for every dead body they show