Snowtown (2011)

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Written by: , , ,
Starring: , ,


Snowtown (2011)

(18) Running time: 120 mins

Director: Justin Kurzel

Writers: Justin Kurzel

Starring: Lucas Pittaway , Daniel Henshall, Louise Harris, Matthew Howard, Markus Howard

Reviewed by: David Gillespie, official HCF artist

Australia seems to have an incredible record in producing top quality, gritty and uncomprimising films. Projects like the  Horseman (2008), Wolf Creek (2005) and Chopper (2000) were created with a modest budget but packed a powerful punch to the head and Snowtown is no exception. Focussing on the troubled family and blighted neighbourhood where John Bunting located himself while he tortured, mutilated and diced anyone that he deemed unacceptable in a civilized society, Snowtown is as bleak and unpleasant as they come.

The story examines schizophrenic teenage boy, Jamie (newcomer Lucas Pittaway, resembling a young Heath Ledger) and his life with unhappy mother Elizabeth (Louise Harris), two younger brothers, and repellent stepbrother.  During the opening quarter we experience the breakdown of Elizabeth’s relationship with her boyfriend when it comes to her attention that he has been molesting each of her sons. Although the sequences of abuse are brief, they are likely to turn even the most hardened cinemagoer’s stomach. After a brief period in jail, the peodophile returns to his home and the family continue to endure his presence as he sits watching them from his front porch.

One morning Jamie wakes to find John (an incredible performance from Daniel Henshall) making breakfast for his family and friends.  He is polite, charming and seems to be very interested in protecting his ‘new’ family from the mother’s former boyfriend.  Unfortunately for Elizabeth she has inadvertently invited a different type of evil into her household.  John quickly gains the boys’ trust with Jamie adopting him as his role model and father figure. He warns his mother, ‘ Dont f@ck this one up’.

Soon the new addition to the family has successfully driven the unwanted neighbour out of town by a initiating his own terror campaign and using the boys as his cohorts.  Rather than benefit from his presence, Jamie’s schizophrenia and paranoia worsen as John forces on his exreme views on dealing with the scum of society. The teenager begins to adopt several of John’s characteristics and ignores the disappearance of many of his equally troubled friends and neighbours. Soon this so-called, role model reveals the true extent of his hatred towards, what he deems as, the rotten core of Australian society.

Snowtown is a film that I would highly recommend but with a toxic health warning.  With scenes of animal cruelty, child molestation, rape, mutilation and torture, there will undoubtedly be something in this mix to repulse any viewer.  One sequence involving the strangulation of a young man was the most difficult thing I have had the displeasure to watch on a cinema screen all year. However it is the mental and psychological impact of many of Bunting’s characterstics and actions that cause most concern.  He manipulates, brainwashes and grooms Jamie and his brothers into his way of thinking. This becomes as repugnant as the graphic violence that we witness onscreen.

The acting is first rate and only increases the power and shock factor of the project.  Henshall’s take on Australia’s most notorious serial killer is terrifying. He wins his arguements by staring at his prey with his intense black eyes or coaxing his lesser minded neighbours into agreeing with his unspeakable and acid fuelled rants by nodding and finishing their sentences for them. Pittaway impresses also with his vunerable and damaged performance as Jamie.  His distressed reaction during a scene involving Bunting daring him to shoot his pet dog is heartbreaking.

The colour and surroundings mirror the tone of the film. This is no sun filled suburbia with Harold Bishop and Lou Carpenter barbecuing their sausages and waving to their good neighbours. In Snowtown the skies are grey and the backyards are filled with mud, rubbish and black plastic tubs filled with human remains.

The pace is for the most part very slow with long lingering shots of characters staring on around blurred landscapes.  I also found that there was some confusion as to which of the supporting characters had either disappeared from proceedings or had been murdered. I am unsure whether this was an intentional device that was used by the director to disorientate the viewer?

Snowtown successfully slots into the extreme genre of movies that Australia has become notorious for. There are certain moments and images that you won’t be able to shake off in a hurry.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


About DAVID GILLESPIE 182 Articles
Fighting for clean bathrooms and restrooms since 1974.


  1. The majority of the folk that accompanied me from Glasgow Film Club agreed it was a powerful if repugnant drama. Only one of our twelve left early.

  2. Just watched this DG….One of the best true life serial killing films since Henry…and the lead actor Daniel gave a haunting performance.

    Amazing that I was going to write this review then I checked to make sure this was not already done and I stumbled across this and top notch to you because I thought of the Heath Ledger look as well.

    Amazing and gripping film my only complaint about your review is that I would have give it top marks but then that is impossible asking that from you, so your score here is pretty high 😉 😮

    I won’t bother with a DVD Release review, but all I will say is….this film deserves to be seen by all readers of HCF….

    • Yes, a very cruel but highly impressive project. I went to the flicks twice to view this and I don’t do that much. Some fantastic performances from the leads. The strangulation scene was one of the hardest things I have had to watch this year. Totally repellent and heartbreaking. I agree that all the HCF staff should watch this one. Another powerhouse thriller from Australia.
      As for the review score, you know what a picky fecker I am?

  3. I also found the dog scene quite horrifc……you do not see anything, just the poor mutt flapping about on the floor…..

    Awful moment…..the only flaw like you said is that the film does not give a clear cut impression of who dies….I had to google to see if John killed that Jimmy Saville lookalike and a few more…..

    Still thinking about this film 12 hours on…….

  4. It isn’t a flaw, mate. I only realised this on the second watch. (Spoiler!!!) Before John murders someone he gets them to leave a phone message, i.e. a suicide, leaving town etc . You will notice that throughout the movie, you will hear random phone messages with characters saying they are leaving town, in other words they are now dead.
    The dog killing scene was psychologically very disturbing – I totally agree with you.

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