Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Watch: First Teaser Trailer For 'Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation' With Tom Cruise Arrives, If You Choose To Accept It Watch: First Teaser Trailer For 'Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation' With Tom Cruise Arrives, If You Choose To Accept It Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Cannes Review: 'Snowtown' An Uneven But Still Mesmerizing & Disturbing Serial Killer Thriller

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist May 17, 2011 at 4:00AM

This film was screened as part of the Critic's Week sidebar.
1

This film was screened as part of the Critic's Week sidebar.

Both naturally thrilling and grotesquely over-the-top, the feature length debut by Justin Kurzel is certainly unforgettable and at times unnervingly mesmerizing. Based on the true story of Australia's "Body In Barrels" murders, "Snowtown" is structured much like "Animal Kingdom," using an adolescent teenager as a gateway into a world and family (of sorts) that is profoundly disturbing.

When we first meet Jamie Vlassakis (newcomer Lucas Pittaway who looks a lot like James Franco) he and his two brothers have already been through one trauma, surviving (with a strange emotionless stoicism) the sexual abuse by their neighbor. Their mother Elizabeth (Louise Harris) turns to her boyfriend John (a terrifying Daniel Henshall) to do something about it but little does she know what lurks between his warm smile and easy (and sometimes unnerving) demeanor. Sensing a vulnerable boy who can easily be moulded, John takes Jamie under his wing and slowly draws the teen into his dark and secret world.

Through humiliation and intimidation, John reveals himself for who he truly is to Jamie: a psychopath of the highest order, and a raging homophobe. John slowly and gradually pushes the sensitive Jamie's tolerance for violence and torture through a variety of increasingly hard to watch scenes. Once he has cowed and desensitized Jamie enough, he brings him into his grander schemes which include meticulously murdering sexual predators, junkies and anyone else John deems unworthy. With a "CSI" worthy level of research, John tracks his potential victims on a massive chart and though coldly stating that "No on cares" about these people, disposing of the bodies in barrels of acid which are hidden in an abandoned bank vault.

Terrified for his own safety as well as that of his mother and brothers, Jamie continues to obey John against his better judgment. During the first "kill" that he's brought along for, Jamie steps outside as the toenails of the victim start being removed with pliers. A furious John calls him back in to witness the rest of the killing and Jamie, eventually overcome by lengthy torture, strangles the person himself in order to spare him anymore pain. But that struggle between brutal violence and a deeper psychological breakdown of both John and Jamie is reflected in Kurzel's approach to the film itself.

"Snowtown" could certainly be described as brave, but it's also wildly uneven. The first half of the film, in which Jamie is slowly groomed and introduced into John's world is easily the best part of the film. Shot in hand-held style in the ugly, earthy browns of an Australian lower class neighborhood, watching John setting the bait and Jamie taking it is intensely compelling and unsettling all at the same time. So when the film shifts into the graphic depictions of the killings -- the first of which, partially described above, caused a massive wave of walkouts -- feel superfluous, indulgent and unnecessary. As a character, John is already frightening, more so because the depths of his depravity are left largely to our imagination. However, when we see John in the act, the mystery of how far his moral code has fallen is disappointingly answered. Once the routines and limits of John's demeanor are established, it limits our thoughts in considering just how extreme his capacity for depravity is. Moreover, the depictions of violence of the film feel exploitative and they aren't quite earned. While Kurzel was likely looking to show how vicious and brutal John Bunting was, recreating the murders seems gratuitous, unearned and we're not convinced it particularly honors the real life victims of these crimes.

For this first effort, Kurzel shows tremendous skill even if "Snowtown" never quite fully succeeds. The psychological portrait he paints with Jamie and overall tension built throughout the film is top rate, while the excursions into violence are jarring diversions from the carefully crafted characters Kurzel has brought forth. Regardless, Pittaway and Henshall each turn in powerhouse performances and though it doesn't always work and loses it's footing as it winds to the end, Kurzel's "Snowtown" is still worth the visit. [C+]

This article is related to: Films, Review, Justin Kurzel, Snowtown


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates