The Snowtown Murders

1 hour 59 minutes

Not Rated (but would get an NC-17 because of how incredibly morbid and disturbing it is)

Directed by Justin Kurzel

Starring Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall, and Louise Harris

3.5 out of 4 stars


There’s always been one movie that I can’t ever watch again: Amores Perros. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Spanish drama is powerful, like all his movies, but in the opening scene we see a guy driving a car with a dog that has just been shot in the back seat. Suddenly the car crashes into another car that a model is driving. The camera moves towards her and we see her bloody face screaming in shock. INSTANTLY after I watched that scene I said to myself “Ok. I’ve seen intense movies, but this one I won’t be able to handle.” If there’s one thing I have trouble watching it’s injured dogs. Later on in the movie we see a flashback of the dog getting shot. Then we watch a dog fall through a floorboard and get trapped for days. The dog survives, thankfully, but the moment it gets picked up from the floorboard and looks lifeless…GOD. It’s such a heart-wrenching scene. Oh yeah, and then there’s a scene where a dog stays in a room with a bunch of other dogs and then murders all of them. When the owner comes home and finds the dead animals he is devastated. He picks up one that he thinks is still breathing and carries it to his car. By the time he gets there the dog is dead.

So yes, I can’t ever watch Amores Perros again. I know I sound girly, but to watch an entire movie where animals are getting hurt is just too much for me. This also explains why I still haven’t seen The Cove, the Academy Award winning documentary from 2007 about the slaughter of dolphins. Anyway, I’m talking about Amores Perros because I now have a new movie that I don’t think I can ever watch again: The Snowtown Murders (also known simply as Snowtown). It has nothing to do with dogs getting hurt. Instead it’s a thriller about a psychopathic serial killer and is perhaps the most realistic movie about a psychopath since the cult hit Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. I recently watched that movie for the first time and was repulsed by how grotesque it is. It’s inspired by real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas and his confidant, Ottis Toole. Lucas was convicted of 11 counts of murder but in court he claimed to have killed 600 people. It’s a grotesque movie (worst scene? When Ottis rapes his sister) but it has a right to be. Serial killers are sick people! The movie bravely shows the sick side of life that we refuse to believe in.

That’s the same case with The Snowtown Murders. It’s based on Australian serial killer John Bunting, who was convicted of murdering 11 people along with his three confidants, Robert Wagner (not the actor), Mark Haydon, and Jamie Vlassakis. I saw a clip of the movie at the Philly Film Festival last year and then left the theater (also because it was 10:30 at night and I had an early class the next day). In the clip Bunting (played by Daniel Henshall) chops up a dead kangaroo, puts the remains in a bucket, and then throws the bucket at someone’s front door. The main character of the movie is Jamie, played perfectly by Lucas Pittaway. He lives with his three other brothers and trashy mom (Louise Harris) in the equally trashy Salisbury North suburb of the country. His mother’s new boyfriend is a pedophile who one day forces the boys to wear girl’s underwear (and probably do other stuff too). The mother finds out and freaks out, obviously. Her new boyfriend, John, thinks pedophiles are sick and the guy should be taught a lesson. He goes to his house and rides the guy’s motorcycle to piss him off. Ok. That’s no big deal. Then he throws kangaroo guts at the guy’s house. That’s pretty creepy.

Jamie starts to look up to John as a father figure. Slowly and creepily though John becomes more psychotic. He finds out that Jamie’s older half-brother, Troy (Anthony Groves), has been sexually abusing him for ages. OMFG. This is disturbing enough. John tells him that he needs to get his anger out by, for example, shooting a dog. Jamie is hesitant because he’s so….screwed up. He’s got no power to make his own decisions. John ends up hating homosexuals too. So now he thinks that homosexuals and pedophiles have to be taught a lesson. Pretty soon John and his friends Robert (Aaron Viergever) and Mark (David Walker) are killing people that they think are harmful to society and forcing Jamie to take part in it.

Director Justin Kurzel holds nothing back. You want to see a movie that visualizes the mind of a serial killer then you got one. As I watched the movie on my Netflix Watch Instantly queue I continued to lose my breath. Just look at the opening scene. The camera tracks down the Australian outback. In a voiceover Jamie talks about a nightmare he has where he sees a Chihuahua walk out of a dead guy’s slit throat. Um……what?! Right away that bit of dialogue sets the tone for the movie. Even the poster for The Snowtown Murders, which is a close-up of Jamie with John creepily peeking up behind, is terrifying. What works about the movie is Henshall’s performance. He’s not an over-the-top emblem of a slasher movie killer like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. He feels like a real guy that we’ve walked past on the street. The way he starts to dominate Jamie’s life is bone-chilling. Jamie can just run away, but can he? Can he ever escape from this monster? If he does escape, where will he go?

This is certainly one of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen, but it’s audacious in how far it’s willing to go. It has a right to be so sick. None of the violence here feels aesthetically pleasing the way it does in horror movies. The life of a serial killer isn’t exciting to watch, it’s downright disturbing.