Saturday, 18 February 2012

Snowtown, dir. Justin Kurzel, scr. Shaun Grant, st. Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway, Louise Harris

Justin Kurzel's unsettling and often brutal film is based on the true story of John Justin Bunting (Henshall), dubbed "Australia's worst serial killer", and his intricate manipulation of James Vlassakis (Pittaway). Thank goodness there's quite a bit of (beautiful) painterly cinematography and a suitably atonal score (the film was made under the Warp label) to help take us out of the documentary-like realism and terrifyingly natural performances. The film riffs on the famous Hannah Arendt quote - the Banality of Evil - and indeed the violent acts depicted here are seen to be perpetrated by a desparately ordinary group of men, albeit led by the charismatic Bunting. Surprisingly I found not the murders themselves to be the most heinous thing up on the screen, but the mistreatment of Vlassakis, Bunting's unwilling protégé. It becomes almost unbearable watching him be abused, raped and subsequently indoctrinated into Bunting's cruel modus operandi, thanks largely to Pittaway's muted, resigned portrayal. That said, there's nothing terribly new here and the film leaves you with the oily griminess of despair and uncleanliness in your mouth. It's very watchable, but undeniably bleak.