Snowtown (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byJustin Kurzel
Screenplay byShaun Grant
Story by
  • Shaun Grant
  • Justin Kurzel
Based onSnowtown murders
Produced by
  • Anna McLeish
  • Sarah Shaw
CinematographyAdam Arkapaw
Edited byVeronika Jenet
Music byJed Kurzel
Distributed byMadman Films
Release date
  • 19 May 2011 (2011-05-19)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
Budget$2-3 million (estimated)
Box office$1.3 million[2][3]

Snowtown (also known as The Snowtown Murders) is a 2011 Australian biographical crime drama directed by Justin Kurzel in his directorial debut[4] and written by Shaun Grant based on the true story of the Snowtown murders.[4][5]


In the poor Adelaide suburb of Salisbury, 16-year-old Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) lives with his distressed mother, Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris), and his brothers—including Troy (Anthony Groves), who rapes Jamie. One day, his mother's boyfriend takes indecent photographs of the boys. When the police are reluctant to intervene, Elizabeth is contacted by Barry (Richard Green), a gay cross-dressing man who introduces her to John (Daniel Henshall). John, who despises paedophiles and homosexuals, continually harasses the boyfriend via means such as throwing kangaroo's blood and body parts at his house until he moves away. John begins to assume the role of Jamie's father figure. Barry tells John the names and addresses of paedophiles in the area, and John creates a wall with pictures and details about each, including notes saying things like "I'm coming for you".

Jamie finds himself slowly drawn into John's homophobic and violent tendencies, unable to escape his charismatic and intimidating dominance. On one occasion, John, aware that Jamie is being raped by his brother Troy, wants Jamie to stand up for himself, and in pursuit of this, gives him a gun and has Jamie shoot his dog. Meanwhile, John influences the rest of the neighbourhood with his extremely homophobic views and separates Barry from his younger boyfriend Robert (Aaron Viergever). Only Troy seems to dislike John. Barry soon disappears, leaving behind only an answering machine message saying that he is going to Queensland. John brings Jamie in as the neophyte member of his small team who "bury men".

Shortly afterward, Jamie visits his drug-addicted best friend Gavin (Bob Adriaens) with John, who takes a dislike to Gavin. Later one night, John and Robert take Jamie into his garden shed and show him the bodies of Barry and Gavin. Distressed, Jamie lashes out at John but remains under his influence. Later, John and Robert torture Troy, and Jamie then kills the brutalised Troy in an act of mercy. Now desensitized, Jamie assists John in carrying out several murders. John and his team store the bodies in the vault of an abandoned bank in the town of Snowtown.

Jamie is persuaded by John to lure his half-brother Dave (Beau Gosling) to the bank building, ostensibly to look at a computer for sale. Jamie drives with him to the town, vaguely conscious of what he is doing, and leads Dave into the building, where he is met by John and Robert. Unaware of what is going on, Dave watches Jamie shut the door of the bank.

Against a black screen, captions reveal that South Australia Police discovered the remains of eight people stored in barrels in the bank vault of Snowtown on 20 May 1999, and the following day, John Bunting and Robert Wagner were arrested.


  • Daniel Henshall as John Bunting
  • Lucas Pittaway[4] as James "Jamie" Vlassakis
  • Aaron Viergever as Robert Wagner
  • David Walker as Mark Haydon
  • Louise Harris as Elizabeth Harvey
  • Keiran Schwerdt as Thomas Trevilyan
  • Bob Adriaens as Gavin
  • Frank Cwiertniak as Jeffrey
  • Matthew Howard as Nicholas
  • Marcus Howard as Alex
  • Anthony Groves as Troy
  • Richard Green as Barry
  • Beau Gosling as Dave
  • Craig Coyne as Ray


Screen Australia announced in March 2010 that it would be funding the film[6] and Film Victoria provided $245,000.[7] The film was produced by Warp Films Australia,[8] a collaboration between Warp Films and distributor Madman Entertainment.

Peter Campbell of Warp Films Australia had to get the remaining suppression orders lifted so the film could be premiered.[9][10]

Snowtown is Kurzel's first feature-length film as director.[4] His short film Bluetongue was shown at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.[6]

Apart from Henshall and Green, the actors were locals with no acting experience, whom Kurzel had found in the area where the murders occurred, with most from Davoren Park. Kurzel himself grew up in the area and felt that using locals would move the film from being a one-dimensional horror show to a tragic human story showing what happens when people are disadvantaged. Davoren Park is considered one of the most violent and dysfunctional suburbs in Australia and a place where emergency vehicles fear to go without a police escort. According to Kurzel, far from the "wow, I'm going to be a movie star" attitude that he had expected, he had some difficulty convincing them to take part.[11][12]

The film was shot in Smithfield Plains, South Australia, an outer suburb of the Adelaide metropolitan area.


Snowtown premiered at the 2011 Adelaide Film Festival and won the festival's "Audience Award", and was selected as one of seven films from around the world that were shown at International Critics' Week competitions that ran in parallel with the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.[5][13] At Cannes, the film was awarded with a Special Mention.[14]

The film was released in the United Kingdom by Revolver Entertainment and, in North America, IFC Midnight.[15]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $8,452 in the U.S.,[2] $1,133,435 in Australia, and $207,500 in France and the UK.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes lists an 83% approval rating based on 65 reviews with an average rating of 7.5 out of 10 with the consensus "It's a bleak and brutal endurance test, but for viewers with the strength and patience to make it to the end, Snowtown will prove an uncommonly powerful viewing experience."[16] On Metacritic, the film holds a 66 out of 100 rating based on 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[17]

Peter Bradshaw reviewed the film for The Guardian and gave it four stars out of five, saying that Snowtown "is a well made but gruesome and often unwatchably violent film." He concluded by stating that it reminded him of 10 Rillington Place and that while films "like David Fincher's Zodiac, or Jaime Rosales's The Hours of the Day, or Shohei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine demystified the killer's macabre criminal career in their various ways; what Snowtown does is create a social-realist horror story showing the killer as parodic paterfamilias."[18]

Fiona Williams of SBS awarded the film three-and-a-half stars out of five, commenting that director Kurzel "sidesteps the gore—mostly—to focus instead on the circumstances that enabled the atrocities to occur ... It's a gripping, discomforting watch."[19]

Channel Nine entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins gave the film a rating of zero stars, stating "This is as close to a snuff movie as I ever want to see … I don't care if it's rooted in truth or not, it's appalling. I've seen it so you don't have to."[20] This review was criticised by culture zine Pedestrian TV[21] and was dismissed by Kurzel[22] and actress Louise Harris.[23][24]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee Result
AACTA Awards
Best Film Anna McLeish Nominated
Sarah Shaw Nominated
Best Direction Justin Kurzel Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Shaun Grant Won
Best Actor Daniel Henshall Won
Best Supporting Actress Louise Harris Won
Best Cinematography Adam Arkapaw Nominated
Best Editing Veronika Jenet Won
Best Original Music Score Jed Kurzel Nominated
Best Sound Frank Lipson Won
Andrew McGrath Won
Des Kenneally Won
Michael Carden Won
John Simpson Won
Erin McKimm Won
AFI Members' Choice Award Anna McLeish Nominated
Sarah Shaw Nominated
ADG Award Best Director Justin Kurzel Nominated
APRA Award Best Music Jed Kurzel Won
Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards Best Film Anna McLeish Won
Sarah Shaw Won
Best Director Justin Kurzel Won
Best Screenplay Shaun Grant Nominated
Best Actor Daniel Henshall Won
Best Supporting Actress Louise Harris Nominated
Best Cinematography Adam Arkapaw Nominated
Best Editor Veronika Jenet Nominated
Best Music Score Jed Kurzel Nominated
Inside Film Awards Best Director Justin Kurzel Nominated
Best Cinematography Adam Arkapaw Nominated
Best Editing Veronika Jenet Won
Best Production Design Fiona Crombie Nominated
Best Sound Frank Lipson Nominated
Andrew McGrath Nominated
Des Kenneally Nominated
Michael Carden Nominated
John Simpson Nominated
Erin McKimm Nominated


  1. ^ "SNOWTOWN (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 21 October 2011. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b "The Snowtown Murders (2012)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Snowtown (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d Reed, Becky (16 November 2011). "Interview: Snowtown's Justin Kurzel & Lucas Pittaway". This Is Fake DIY. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Snowtown murders film selected for Cannes". ABC News (Australia). 19 April 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  6. ^ a b "Screen Australia funding approvals announced". Screen Australia. 22 March 2010. Archived from the original on 2 April 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  7. ^ "Vic govt to fund Snowtown murders film". The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 March 2010. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  8. ^ Harris, Samela (12 December 2011). "Snowtown a triumph for Aussie movie making". The Advertiser. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  9. ^ "Snowtown suppression orders lifted for film". Australian Associated Press. 20 January 2011.
  10. ^ Edwards, Verity (21 January 2011). "Judge clears way for Snowtown film". The Australian. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  11. ^ Davoren Park's streets of fear and loathing The Advertiser 31 July 2009
  12. ^ David Penberthy Northern Exposure The Sunday Mail 26 August 2012 pp. 46–51
  13. ^ "50e Selection de la demaine de a critique – 2011". French Syndicate of Cinema Critics. Archived from the original on 25 March 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  14. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (20 May 2011). "Take Shelter wins top prize at Cannes Critics Week". Screen Daily. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
  15. ^ Mitchell, Wendy (21 May 2011). "IFC Midnight takes on Snowtown from Protagonist". Screen Daily. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  16. ^ "The Snowtown Murders (2012)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  17. ^ "The Snowtown Murders". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  18. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (17 November 2011). "Snowtown – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  19. ^ Williams, Fiona. "Snowtown (review)". SBS. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  20. ^ "Wilko's frosty reaction to South Australian film Snowtown". Adelaide Now. 19 May 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  21. ^ "Richard Wilkins slams Snowtown". Pedestrian TV. 20 May 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  22. ^ "Richard Wilkins's review a giggle to Snowtown director Justin Kurzel". The Daily Telegraph. 20 June 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  23. ^ "Wilkins' opinion matters not as Snowtown sweeps awards". The Daily Telegraph. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  24. ^ "'Snowtown's Louise Harris slams "w**ker" critic Richard Wilkins". Digital Spy. 3 February 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2013.

External links[edit]