Frame to Frame
A New Level of Violence
Gritty realism has rarely been as chilling as it is in Justin Kerzul’s debut feature Snowtown. Based on true events that plagued a small South Australian town in the ‘90s, Snowtown provides a close look at Australia’s worst serial killer, John Bunting.
The horrifying statistics can easily be found online, but reading about them will still not prepare you for the visceral ride that this psychological character piece takes you on.
The story follows Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), a teenager who lives in squalid conditions with his chain-smoking mother and three brothers. After a friendly neighbour agrees to take care of the kids while Elizabeth (Louise Harris) is away, she comes back to realize that the neighbour wasn’t so friendly after all (or, you could say, a little too friendly) and the theme of perversion and unsafe neighbourhoods kicks in.
Jamie and his brothers awake one night to hear a motorcyclist revving his engine right in front of the neighbour’s house. This motorcyclist is John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) who revs his way into Jamie’s life to provide the much-needed stability the family lacks.
There’s nothing like a powerful first feature to open your eyes to a new filmmaker. Stylistically, Kerzul does a fantastic job of making you feel the atmosphere and environment that Jamie finds himself in. Shaky cameras and interrupted takes that follow characters in and out of their dilapidated households serve to create a semi-documented and raw review of the surroundings that bred the evil displayed in the story.
The dialogue from the characters feels improvised, a credit to the actors and the screenplay, the latter doing a great job of peeling the layers with paced structure. The music used, from first-time composer and brother to Justin, Jeb Kerzul (guitarist in “The Mess Hall”: http://www.myspace.com/themesshall) is extremely effective because it’s catchy with a malevolent twist. Much like the film’s greatest achievement: John Bunting.
The scariest thing about Daniel Henshall’s John Bunting is that when you meet him, and even at some points later in the film, you really like the guy. He is charismatic, has an infectious smile, generous and loving with Elizabeth’s kids and he has a vigilante’s passion for doing something about the scum that slips through the loopholes of the law.
As we progress deeper, and John firmly asserts himself as the alpha-male of the family, we quickly begin to realize that this bubbly, bearded man we like so much is a sadistic psychopath.
Henshall, who delivers what will probably be the best male performance of the year not nominated for an Academy Award, overshadows every other actor in the film. In fact, the glaring weakness of the film lies with the casting of Jamie, the protagonist who falls a little flat next to Bunting. Pittaway looks like an amateur compared to Henshall, and the more dramatic scenes he has don’t do much justice to the film. However, with the film’s direction so intact and the most important character portrayed almost perfectly, the disappointments are minor.
If you are disturbed by animal cruelty and an intense display of human evil (the kind that makes you literally squirm in your seat and bite your t-shirt), Snowtown is not for you. Part of the film’s power is that it makes it hard for you to revisit it. But for a good example of an accomplished debut feature, a display of wonderful acting and fantastic use of music, this movie deserves to be seen that one time.