John Bunting is classed as one of Australia’s worst serial killers. Over the course of 7 years, with two accomplices, he tortured and killed 11 people before stuffing their bodies into barrels or burying them in the back garden. Most of these were deemed necessary by Bunting having decided they were paedophiles and/or homosexuals.
When faced with this kind of atrocity it’s easy to bow to the common tabloid reading, mob mentality, them what lives ‘ere knows denominators. Turn it all into heady mix of true life fact and overtly gruesome torture porn that makes us feel better about ourselves for watching because we justify the exploitative nature of it because it’s true innit. I’m looking at you very single channel that shows shockumentaries (I was born without big toes, my love for a S&M duck, I was born out of a vagina, etc). There’s also the option that goes for nothing but truth and become nothing more than po-faced drama that are ultimately decried by the Daily Mail for humanising killers (they are trying to suggest the killer had parents!).
Snowtown goes for a mixture of the two. It’s art vs. gory fascination. With the murders still fresh in Australia’s collective memory, a lot of people will seeing this in an effort to understand why a man like Bunting would go down this path. Well, you’re not going to get any answers from here. When we first meet Bunting he’s deliberately revving his motorbike two feet outside a child molesters house whilst the effected family look on from across the road. All twinkly eyes, bushy beard and smiles, he is welcomed with open arms into the bosom of the family. A family consisting of one of the murder victims and his brother, James Vlassakis. James would eventually fall under Bunting’s spell and lead his step brother to his death in 1998. But for now, he’s just happy to have a new father figure, who makes his mum happy and finally believes the abuse he suffers at the hands of his brother.
Like David Henshall’s portrayal of Bunting, Snowtown is a film that ensnares you. For a film about murder, we see very little. There’s only really suggestion, a feeling that you can’t really prove anything. When we see the truth through the eyes of James, we see the veneer being chipped away from Bunting. Like James, we are given the option to leave, but it’s almost impossible to do so.
There is also very little violence. Hostel fans may be disappointed to know that the only act of violence is a 5 minute torture scene. It’s a difficult scene to watch and when it’s over, you’ll find you’ve been holding your breath the entire time.
But this film isn’t about the violence. It’s about the performances. Comprised of mainly am-dram wannabes, everyone is superb. A big shout out must go to Louise Harris and Lucas Pittaway who play mother, Elizabeth Harvey, and son, James, respectively. It’s heartbreaking to watch them slowly begin to understand the true nature of the stranger that has come into their lives.
At two hours, this is a very long time to spend in the company of these people. The grim nature of it could be extremely off-putting to some. However, this is definitely one of the better films of 2011. Just make sure you follow it up with something like You’ve Been Framed…