Cannes 2011: Snowtown reaction

Snowtown is an Australian thriller based on real life serial killer John Bunting, who murdered 11 people in South Australia between 1992 and 1999.

Taking the point of view of teenage accomplice Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway, pictured), the film charts the effect Bunting has on Jamie’s world, and his eventual decline into depravity and murder.

Darkly shot with a subdued colour palette, the film is disquieting from the start, not least becasue of the ominous score.

Building into an unsettling portrait of suburban and human decay, the integration and assimilation of Jamie into John’s depraved mindset is punctuated by moments of extreme, visceral violence.

Filmed on location in South Australia, the cast is populated with locals, many of whom had never acted before (including Lucas Pittaway, who was discovered in a local shopping mall), giving the film a rooted, authentic feel.

Though Pittaway’s Jamie is a performance worthy of an accomplished thesp, it is Daniel Henshall’s chilling portrayal of twisted killer John Bunting that takes the plaudits.

Charismatic and charming, Henshall also has a menacing stare worthy of Hannibal Lecter – one minute accompanying a jovial smile, the next an insane gaze that gives away the psychopath lurking underneath.

As the house lights came up to near-unanimous applause, it was clear that the shocking subject matter had divided opinion – what started as a full house at the beginning of the screening had been reduced by nearly a third – many choosing to walk out rather than endure some of the film’s more grotesque scenes.

This is not a film for the weak of stomach.

Nor it is a film that seeks to glorify the subject matter – instead it is an intelligent, layered dissection of human psychology, charting the downfall of an emotionally disturbed young man at the instruction of a father figure he had desperately needed.

In all, a disturbing account of a dark chapter in recent Australian history, and an unforgettable debut from a director with a unique visual style, and the assured touch of a veteran.

Snowtown is screening in Cannes as part of the Critic’s Fortnight, you can see the trailer below;

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