As if I don’t already have enough reasons to avoid dark alleys and camping in the woods here at home thanks to our own true crime and horror genre; now, recent Australian cinematic endeavors seem hellbent on making sure I avoid the outback as well. Whether it’s looking out for Mick Taylor (Wolf Creek), keeping out of the water (Rogue, Black Water, The Reef), fearing thy neighbors (Animal Kingdom), and soon enough, to never turn down a date to prom (The Loved Ones). It’s not all just Dot and the Kangaroo or Muriel’s Wedding Down Under. Now director Justin Kurzel (making a fantastic debut) seems dead set on making sure that your neighborhood watch is out for more than your safety in The Snowtown Murders. Based on the novels Killing for Pleasure by Debi Marshall and Andrew McGarry’s The Snowtown Murders, the “Bodies in Barrels Murders” is brought to life, giving us the story of Australian serial killer, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall).
The murders took place from 1992 until the barrels’ discoveries in Snowtown, South Australia in 1999. It wasn’t until the producers of this film managed to get a judge to lift suppression orders preventing the publication of details that the story could be brought more to light. In The Snowtown Murders, Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) lives with his mother Elizabeth (Louise Harris), who is separated from her children’s father and is sick with cancer. They both live with the rest of the family, including Jamie’s two younger brothers, and older brother, Troy (Anothony Groves). Elizabeth is smitten with her neighbor Jeffrey (Frank Cwiertniak), who lives across the street. But after a cross dressing NARC comes calling, Elizabeth learns that Jeffrey is actually a pedophile who has taken lewd photos of the younger brothers and nudes of Jamie. Not to mention that Troy has a habit of sodomizing Jamie.
Now John has stepped up to be a father figure and also leads a vigilante-styled neighborhood watch support group. He takes the boys under his wing and shows them the ways of revenge. First they write “fag” across Jeffrey’s front windows then John encourages the boys to commence throwing ice cream cones at the house. Eventually, things begin to heat up when John and Jamie move up to splashing down Jeffrey’s doorstep with dismembered kangaroo parts. After Jeffrey finally moves away, John sets his sights on trying to “help out” poor Jamie and wants to teach him the ways of self defense. John knows what happened between Jamie and Troy, and forces Jamie to shoot his dog. This, of course, still isn’t enough to dip Jamie over to the dark side. It’s not until after John murders his best friend (because he’s a junkie) and an episode with shooting heroine, that John finally gets Jamie on his side after torturing Troy in the bathroom and Jamie decides takes matters into his own hands to end it.
Director Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant have shown a true descent into madness here. Whatever the creators of Chronicle thought they were doing, The Snowtown Murders shows them how it’s done. This is the film that Hannibal only dreamed of being. At first it may come across as a companion piece to Animal Kingdom, but remember that this is all based on true events. And while it sounds like it may be chockfull of gratuitous violence, most of it is off screen and the more gruesome parts of Troy’s torture scene is merely flashed upon. The situation only made more menacing by Jed Kurzel’s score. They honestly spend more time showing John hack up the defenseless kangaroo than they do on any of the human violence. But don’t let this sound like it’s not effective. A sound effect can be far more stomach wrenching than anything a movie can throw at you. While certainly not a film for everyone, those seeking out the true crime genre will definitely not feel their penny wasted on The Snowtown Murders.
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