Snowtown: a harrowing Adelaide ride

28 February, 2011 by Brendan Swift

“Confronting, disturbing but, in my view, an amazing Australian film that looks at the psychology of evil.”

It’s not a bad endorsement from film-loving South Australian State Premier, Mike Rann, describing the first feature about the State’s most notorious and shocking mass-murders – Snowtown.


Whether driven by curiosity or positive word-of-mouth, South Australians have flocked to see the searingly honest account of the 12 "bodies in barrels" murders by serial killer John Bunting and accomplices, at the BigPond Adelaide Film Festival.

Last night was the second sold-out screening, with more than 200 people packing the Piccadilly Cinema in upmarket North Adelaide. The film delivers a gripping account of the murders without shying away from the escalating brutality – however, only two couples walked out last night as the horror took hold.

“Right from the start, the level of brutality in the events of this film is horrific,” director Justin Kurzel told the audience during a question and answer session after the film.

“We just scratched the surface in terms of what actually happened and I know that when I first started reading the books I had some pretty serious nightmares about what happened. And for Shaun [Grant, screenwriter] and I, it was always about the characters and the psychology of the characters and, to us, the violence always had to connect to that storytelling and the emotional truth within each of the scenes and the journey … so it was a continuing balancing act.”

Time will tell how the broader marketing campaign, led by distributor Madman Entertainment, plays out: the film could tap into the same audience that flocked to see gritty crime drama Animal Kingdom – or just as easily repel them as occurred with local horror film The Loved Ones.

Nonetheless, it is a gripping film, brimming with talent off-screen and on-screen – many local non-actors were found through a six-week process, adding to the authenticity.

“There is something about that community that is incredibly distinct and it is something that I remembered and wanted to bring to screen,” Kurzel, who was raised in Gawler, close to the murders, said.

“As soon as someone sat down and they started talking to me and telling their story you kind of knew straight away that they would be right.”

The BigPond Adelaide Film Festival paid for Brendan Swift’s return flights from Sydney to Adelaide and six nights accommodation at the Hilton Hotel.