The Snowtown Murders is a strong and pungent film that bears similarities to Larry Clark’s Kids, Portrait of a Serial Killer and the newly released Rampart. It has great character development, some incredible performances and a lackluster visual style that plays right into the type of film that it is. If you aren’t able to pick it up from the comparison films, this is not a movie for the faint of heart. Some of the subject matter involves cruelty to Kangaroos and dogs, rape, child pornography, incest, homophobia, dismemberment and transvestites. If you feel those subjects are too harsh, stop reading now, as there is no reason to continue.
The story is about a group of Australians that were convicted of killing people in their community. It’s told mostly from the perspective of a teenage boy who was in the middle of everything that happened. I don’t want to give anything away, as you can look up the facts online.
They do have the real facts about the real people at the end of the film, as we often see in reality based films.
The Snowtown Murders starts with a bang. It wastes no time in establishing that the family of focus lives in the Australian ghetto. The only lady of the house, the mother, leaves for some necessary event (we find out it’s just to gamble squander money she doesn’t have into digital poker machines) and places 3 of her 4 sons in the questionable care of the neighbor across the street. After he takes pictures of them and is seen at a table naked, we jump to the next day where a transvestite and two of her guy friends show up to speak with the mother. We don’t hear the conversation, but assume the worst, as the mother goes off the deep end.
I don’t believe in spoilers concerning anything past the first 15 – 20 minutes, so I’m done retelling the story.
The I was making is we don’t know the conversation entailed. This is the start of the biggest flaw of this film. Often we are left to piece together the events and even the characters that the events occurred to. The first 45 minutes, I was very much involved in the film. In less than 5 minutes, I went from knowing to lost. After that, unless you know saw this on the news, or read about it before seeing the film, something gets lost. We don’t know who is dying, we don’t always know why they died, and we aren’t even always sure who was involved in doing the offing. After a certain point I gave up trying to figure it out. The murders we know about don’t come close the total identified at the end, so just enjoy the story we do get.
Even with the big holes, the acting and the characters make this strong film from Australia one of the better I have seen from there. The actor who plays John, the mother’s boyfriend, is frightfully friendly and reservedly unhinged throughout the entire movie. One second he is treating the boys like a great friend, asking to cook for them, the next he is getting the teenager, Jamie, to join him in terrorizing the neighbor from across the street and then he’s holding a community get together that can only be described as a deleted scene from American History X.
Daniel Henshall gives a charming depth to this lunatic, killing you with charm one mintue, and killing you the next. I suspect this is the launch pad of his career, as his magnetic performance alone is worth overlooking the plot holes.
Jamie, the sixteen year old is played by Lucas Pittaway. He also does a great job as a teenager just trying to find where they fit. His living arrangements leave a lot to be desired. He’s been abused by seemingly everyone and when his mother gets together with John, it seems he finally has a role model. You can see why, after a fight between the mother and John, that he takes John’s side when he doesn’t even know why they were fighting. For an young actor, he shines in being apathetic and numb, as his character should be.
The camera work in The Snowtown Murdersis amateur in best possible way. Very often making it feel like the you are cheapened by the grain and the many rough cuts in each scene. This plays perfectly to atmosphere of the film. It is similar to a lot of the student films I have seen, or festival showings. Rough around the edges, but skillfully done.
The high grain looks like 16mm blown up to 35, without attempting to smooth it out or over processing. It looks even grainier due to the dismally lit, always gloomy sky and dark grey clouds. The whole things breathes a life of atmosphere that enhances the dark subject matter.
I can’t give this film more than 3 stars based on the gaping plot holes. The three stars are well deserved, and if it had taken a little more time to fill you in, it may have been a classic in terms of the subject matter presented.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars