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Snowtown (2011)

Based on true events, 16 year-old Jamie falls in with his mother’s new boyfriend and his crowd of self-appointed neighborhood watchmen, a relationship that leads to a spree of torture and murder.

Snowtown is an Australian film based on the true story of ‘The Snowtown Murders’, also known as the ‘Bodies in Barrels’ murders, where 11 people in South Australia were murdered between August 1992 and May 1999. The crimes were uncovered when the remains of eight victims were found in barrels of acid located in a rented former bank building in Snowtown on 20 May 1999.

Living in the United Kingdom I was unfamiliar with the murders, but as a big fan of true stories I thought I would check this out. What I saw was a horrifying film and something which really shows how little some people value the human life.

The film starts by introducing us to the lead character, a young boy named Jamie. He lives a dull and uneventful life, in which his distressed mother Elizabeth looks after him and his younger brothers, and he lacks a father figure. One day his mother’s boyfriend takes indecent photographs of the boys – which we are shown from the top up but this scene is beyond creepy – and since the police are reluctant to intervene, Elizabeth is contacted by Barry, a gay man who introduces her to John.

John despises paedophiles and homosexuals, so he helps Jamie’s family out and deals with the boyfriend by continually harassing him until he is forced to leave the town, making John seem like a hero in the process and ultimately he assumes the role of Jamie’s father figure.

As the film develops and Jamie befriends John, he is slowly drawn into his homophobic and violent tendencies, and soon realises that he is within John’s control, unable to escape because of his charismatic and intimidating dominance. This is when the focus of the film shifts, from a slow burning start where the boys are meeting a new father-like figure to the realisation that John is out of control and Jamie is taken along for the ride. He gets to see the real John and what he is capable of, and towards the end of the film things get a lot more brutal. Whilst some action is implied or happening off camera, we do see some pretty gruesome torture scenes and an awful rape scene. Jamie is made to be a participant in some of the crimes and a couple of scenes involving one of Jamie’s brothers are particularly horrifying to sit through.

Whilst being hard to watch, Snowtown also made it nearly impossible to look away as I didn’t want to miss anything. The houses, sets, clothing, tv’s etc, it was perfect in it’s authenticity and made me feel like I was back in the 90’s. There was a real gritty look and feel to the experience, and like most true stories I’m sure some liberties were taken to fill in the gaps between the murders, Snowtown really was an impressive film and one I’m glad I managed to see. It’s tricky to recommend this to everyone, but for those that like true stories and can overlook some occasional blood and gore this is well worth checking out.

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29 Comments

  1. Great review dude. You’ve pretty much echoed my thoughts. I thought that the performances were excellent and the period setting was beautifully captured. It made me want to look up the true events and you’re right that some liberties were taken but it is fairly accurate which makes it feel so gruesome.

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    • Cheers Tom. Yeah I love an Australian tv show called ‘Underbelly’ which is based on true crime events, and again they kind of embellish on certain truths. Yet like with Snowtown it doesn’t detract from the final product & shines light on the crimes that people like myself would otherwise not know about. Thanks for dropping by, much appreciated!

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  2. great review

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  3. Absolutely loved Snowtown. Good review.

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  4. I’ve Really Wanted To See This One, But Our Local Video Store Doesn’t Have A Copy 😦 So I May Just Have To Make It An Amazon Purchase! hahaha
    Very Nifty Review, Sir!
    Very Nifty, Indeed 😀
    -B.

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    • Thanks my friend, appreciate it. I only found this when our local supermarkets started selling it, and the cover alone was reason enough for me to buy it. Hope you get chance to catch it, you will have to let me know what you think if you do. Its not an easy watch at times!

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  5. gregory moss

     /  September 2, 2012

    Great review! I live in the city where the murders took place (but not the northern suburbs, I hasten to add!) and the film really does capture the milieu of these depressed neighborhoods extremely well. The sense of dread is palpable. It’s a well made and powerful film and I’m glad I saw it. But it’s not something I need to see again. It’s dark, disturbing tone brings to mind another Australian psychodrama ‘Ghosts … Of The Civil Dead’ – in that it evokes the same response in the viewer. A film well worth seeing – if only once.

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    • Thanks for the comment Gregory!! I agree, I’m in no rush to see it again but glad I have seen it. And it sounds like they did the area and era justice from what you say. I will have to look up the other film you mention, not heard of it.

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      • gregory moss

         /  September 2, 2012

        Cheers Tyson! It was John Hillcoat’s debut feature made in 1988 and was co-written by Nick Cave (who also appears in it). Should be easy enough to find. Really dig your blog and look forward to future posts! 🙂

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        • Thanks again, glad you like it and hope I can keep you coming back! I’m sure the film can be tracked down, even here in the UK (where I can’t buy the Australian brilliant show Underbelly anywhere!) so I will check as soon as I get home from work.

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  6. Great review, man! I have had this one recommended to me before. I definitely need to check it out!

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  7. atothewr

     /  September 2, 2012

    Great review.

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  8. Sorry to be a dissenting voice on this one, but I really didn’t like this movie; I understand it’s meant to be a tale focussing on Jamie’s loss of innocence, but to me it seemed to lose interest in its own story, which is not helped by often leaden pacing.

    I really wanted to like it, but the approach the filmmakers took left me uninvolved. That said, if you like this one and also like Underbelly, I highly recommend a film called Animal Kingdom – it gets the balance right and is a very powerful film.

    Oh, and great review even though I don’t agree with it 🙂

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    • No worries at all! Nice that you gave your reasons rather than just saying its crap! 🙂

      I loved Animal Kingdom, I caught it just after the ‘oscar buzz’ it got and loved it. Really should get my review of that up. The end scene in Animal Kingdom actually made me jump, not much manages that! Just such a surprise…….

      And thanks!!

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  9. I watched this the other week and reviewed it as well. Loved it. It’s really disturbing without resorting to showing all the brutality in all its glory. Like you said, there’s the part with his brother, but most of the movie stays away from those kinds of scenes.

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  10. Holy crap, I found it painful just reading this Review. Not a critique of your writing, but the potential subject matter of the film, as I imagine it in my head.

    Nice Review. Ominious in a way.

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  11. jmount43

     /  September 13, 2012

    Great review, Tyson. Makes me want to see it and review it myself sometime.

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  1. One From The Archives: Snowtown (2011) | Head In A Vice

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