'The Snowtown Murders' Shockya.com Movie Review, Written by: karen Benardello
Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway and Louise Harris
Films based on real-life murders often strive to glorify the brutal violence of the crimes to visually engage and captivate audiences. But the new crime drama thriller ‘The Snowtown Murders,’ which is based on the murders of the same name that occurred in South Australia during the majority of the 1990s, is instead more sensitive to the victims’ stories. Through engagement with the local community before and during shooting, the film gracefully showcases the back-story and psychology of the main characters, and what motivated them to start killing their own neighbors.
‘The Snowtown Murders’ follows a single mother, Elizabeth Harvey (played by Louise Harris), who is struggling to raise her three boys in the poor Adelaide, Australia suburb of Snowtown. She begins dating John Bunting (portrayed by Daniel Henshall), who at first offers stability to her family, as he has appointed himself as the leader of the neighborhood watch meetings. John and his friends cast judgments on those living around them, and they embark in acts of sadistic vigilantism on those they consider deviants. John takes one of Elizabeth’s sons, Jamie (played by Lucas Pittaway), under his wing, offering a stable father-son relationship that he has continuously sought all his life. However, to his horror, Jamie comes to realize that he’s an accomplice to a spree of torture and murder.
While the Snowtown murders is still an extremely sensitive subject to many living in the area, screenwriter Shaun Grant elegantly concentrated more on the psychology of the characters than the actual violence of the murders. By telling the story through Jamie’s point of view, ‘The Snowtown Murders’ presents the debate of why he participated in the crimes. He desperately sought guidance from a father-figure, and John was controlling enough to manipulate Jamie’s need for approval to do what he wanted. Jamie’s innocence was so quickly corrupted by his continued search for love that it was easy to understand why he became so complicit in helping with John’s brutal crimes.
Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel, who made his feature film directorial debut with ‘The Snowtown Murders,’ was able to bring an authenticity and sense of humanity to the crime thriller by engaging with the surrounding communities. Not only did he use real locations and local dialogue for the movie, but Kurzel also hired local, first-time actors for the main cast. As a result, they didn’t have the pressure of emulating their previous acting roles, and instead could focus on telling the true motives of the crimes.
While not much public information about Jamie is available, Pittaway worked closely with Kurzel and off the script to present the character in a naive light. As the plot of ‘The Snowtown Murders’ developed, the actor mirrored the shock and horror Jamie experienced as the murders progressed. While Jamie knew what he was involved with was wrong, he gradually learned to become more accepting of the horrors going on around him, as he finally was given the male attention he so long craved.
Henshall, who also made his feature film acting debut in ‘The Snowtown Murders,’ also came to understand his character’s mind, and convincingly played John’s manipulative nature. The actor was able to use the isolation of being away from his family to relate to John being an outsider in the neighborhood. Since he had no ties to the community, he took it upon himself to take control of the neighborhood watch group to pretend that he cared about his neighbors and gain their trust.
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