The violent, unpleasant, ugly and very impressive first film by Australian director Justin Kurzel and his co-screenwriter Shaun Grant and originally called only Snowtown (the title change seemed to come about because the action really doesn’t take place in that city, but is where the murder victims were eventually found—that and maybe it just sounded like a Christmas movie otherwise). The film seems to pose an interesting question: which would you rather have in your neighborhood—pedophiles or people who kill pedophiles. By the time the movie is over, don’t be surprised if you go for the former. It’s based on the career of John Bunting, Australia’s most famous and notorious serial killer (a dubious honor, but an honor none the less), played by Daniel Henshall in a scary and captivating performance. Teenage Jamie (played by first timer Lucas Pittaway in a role that doesn’t really require much more of him than to look around blankly) is molested along with his younger brothers by a man who lives across the street and is courting his mother. When it all comes out, into Jamie’s life comes Bunting, a roly-poly teddy bear of a man who is all warmth and eagerness to become a nurturing father figure. There is a twinkle in his eye as bright as the aurora borealis (he’s the sort of character the audience instantly knows is a sociopath, while the characters on screen are always a little slow to catch on). He woos Jamie’s mother Elizabeth (whose sucked in bony cheeks and worn beauty say everything about her socio/economic background), as well as Jamie, and then uses their house as home base for he and his friends to viciously murder people he doesn’t like (at first pedophiles, but then anyone who isn’t perfect enough-a drug addict, a spastic). And he does it in a way so clever one wonders why no one else has done it this way before: he tortures them (for those who like seeing toenails removed with pliers) until they say what he wants them to into a tape recorder, a message that can be left on an answering machine in which the victims tell their nearest and dearest that they are leaving town, not coming back and don’t come looking for them. And what helps is that most of the people he kills are ones whom no one cares about anyway and are just as glad to be rid of. It’s a dark and brooding film, set among homes and lawns filled with years of accumulated junk and trivia—everything feels cluttered, choked and messy; nothing gets thrown away, just layered on top of each other. It’s the sort of art decoration (production design Fiona Crombie, art direction Chris Jobson) that never gets awards, but is just as brilliantly done as any Merchant and Ivory period piece. The faces of the characters have the same worn look; the weather is equally drab; and no one and nothing seems to have a future. Highly recommended.

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