SNOWTOWN (2011) Review

Directed by: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall, Louise Harris

I actually saw this movie way back in May when it first came out in theatres here in Australia, but for some strange reason I have neglected to post a review of it yet. Since I'm trying to cram in as many more 2011 reviews before the end of the year I thought now is as good a time as any. Fortunately this isn't the kind of film which is easily forgotten.

In case you're not familiar with the true story on which this is based, I will briefly fill you in. On the 20th of May 1999, eight bodies were found in barrels of acid inside a disused bank building in Snowtown, South Australia. This eventually led to the discovery of a further four bodies and the subsequent arrest and conviction of four people for their part in the murders. This movie tells the story of how the bodies ended up there.
But it tells so much more than just that.

Sixteen-year-old Jamie lives with his mother, Elizabeth, and two younger brothers, Alex and Nicholas, in a housing trust home in Adelaide's northern suburbs. Their home is but one of many sun-starved houses crammed together to cater for a disenfranchised society. Jamie longs for an escape from the violence and hopelessness that surrounds him and his salvation arrives in the form of John, a charismatic man who unexpectedly comes to his aid. As John spends more and more time with Jamie's family, Elizabeth and her boys begin to experience a stability and sense of family that they have never known. John moves from the role of Jamie's protector to that of a mentor, indoctrinating Jamie into his world, a world brimming with bigotry, righteousness and malice. Like a son mimicking his father, Jamie soon begins to take on some of John's traits and beliefs as he spends more and more time with him and his select group of friends.  (IMDb)

I can honestly say that SNOWTOWN is the most powerful and disturbing film I have seen all year. It will either have you totally immersed and riveted to your seat, or you will find yourself walking out of the theatre (as many did). The violent scenes are few and far between, but when they happen they are gruesome and hit with the force of a sledgehammer. But the violence is not the aspect which has the most impact. It is the relationship between Jamie Vlassakis (Pittaway) and John Bunting (Henshall) which at first starts off very paternal and friendly before growing darkly sinister and twisted. Bunting slowly leads Jamie into his world of bigotry and righteousness before revealing his homicidal plans. Jamie then finds himself struggling with Bunting's ideals (which seem to have some kind of a moral base) and his own conscience.

SNOWTOWN is beautifully shot, perfectly written and every single actor plays their part perfectly. What's extraordinary is that almost all of the cast were effectively taken off the street with no prior acting experience. And amazingly this is director Justin Kurzel's debut feature film.
There is no doubt that this movie will have some kind of impact on every one of its viewers and will stay lodged in your mind long after it has been seen. This is both a recommendation and a warning.

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