Based on a series of gruesome real-life killings that occurred from 1992-1999 in Australia, “The Snowtown Murders” is an often annoyingly confusing but also creepily compelling thriller that takes it’s subject matter seriously rather than exploit it for cheap shock value. Which is not to say “The Snowtown Murders” is not shocking. It is the story of how an entire town is beguiled by an unhinged psycho, and how that psycho takes an abused boy under his wing and melds him into his protege.
Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is an underprivileged Aussie teenager who has pretty shit luck all around. He and his younger brothers are sexually abused by his mom’s boyfriend Jeffrey (Frank Cwiertniak,) and his thuggish older brother Troy (Anthony Groves) rapes him. His mom (Louise Harris) loves her sons but also seems to be unable to rise to the occasion of parenting them. Then she leaves Jeffrey and is introduced to John (Daniel Henshall,) who initially seems to be the full package- good-looking, charming, and great with the kids.
But something seems a bit ‘off’ about John. He talks constantly about torturing and killing child molesters. I mean, it’s foolproof, right? No one wants to be the one to contradict him. Everyone hates pedos, but John’s rants seem quite obviously to be a part of an obsession. And he’s a man of action, John is. He’s got charts and posters all over his house tracking sex offenders. Then people start disappearing.
Not just sex offenders. Jamie’s amiable druggie friend, Gavin (Bob Adriaens.) Mom’s gay bestie, Barry (Richard Green.) And later, with Jamie’s assistance, that slow kid next door (Robert Deeble.) At first, Jamie seems horrified by the carnage going on practically on his doorstep. Horrified when John instructs him to shoot his own dog. But Jamie is sick of being the perpetual butt of abuse. He thinks becoming John’s assistant is the way to man up and put an end to taking it up the ass (all too literally.) And John is just getting started.
The amazing thing about this cast was that all of them, besides Henshall as John and Richard Green, are non-professionals simply talked into playing in a movie. This is particularly extraordinary for Pittaway, who forces you to sympathize with his deeply damaged time bomb. Henshall has a genuine glint of malice in his eye that goes beyond ‘play-acting the psycho.’ He looks and more importantly, FEELS dangerous. The closest thing I can think to compare it to is Noah Taylor is Red, White, & Blue. I can’t think of a single actor or actress who seemed to be dragging down the cast.
It took me a second viewing to really appreciate the movie. The first time, I found it very hard to follow. The second time, I also found it hard to follow, but less so, and I appreciated it’s unnerving combination of gritty urban realism and extreme violence. This is a thinking movie, so you have to primarily focus on it to process what is happening (no tap-tap-tapping away at your ipads, multi-taskers!) I’m glad I thought to see this a second time, even though it was a tough watch. Multiple watches might serve distractable viewers well.