Tagged Daniel Henshall

Snowtown: The Chilling Seduction of the Disadvantaged

Snowtown. 2011. Directed by Justin Kurzel. Screenplay by Shaun Grant. Based on books by Debi Marshall & Andrew McGarry.
Starring Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens, Louise Harris, Frank Cwiertniak, Matthew Howard, Marcus Howard, Anthony Groves, Richard Green, Aaron Viergever, & Daniel Henshall. The South Australian Film Corporation/Carver Films/Screen Australia/Warp Films Australia.
Rated R. 119 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★1/2
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Before his wonderfully grim and atmospheric Macbeth adaptation, director Justin Kurzel first wowed me with Snowtown. This is a film dedicated to telling an awful, tragic story, and in the most impressive way possible. Aesthetically, you’ll be hard pressed to find such an intense look at the horrific crimes of a real life serial killer as this movie.
Using the real life killings and crime spree of infamous Australian criminal John BuntingSnowtown examines how the lower class and the disadvantaged are in danger of being prey for emotional/sexual predators, as well as those masquerading in the costume of saviours. When Bunting came into contact with James Vlassakis and his mother, as well her other children, he did so under the guise of being a protector. From there, the group which began surrounding them all became much like a cult of personality, everyone following Bunting as he launched a self-imposed campaign of murder and torture against paedophiles and abusers, some confirmed, others only suspected. Bunting often called his killings “playing”, as well as the fact he and accomplice Robert Wagner ritually played the song “Selling the Drama” by the band Live as they murdered, tortured, and cut people into pieces. While this movie definitely contains graphic, explicit material, Kurzel does an amazing job straddling the line of decency. With regards to movies focused on actual serial killers directors and writers can run the danger of being insensitive, being too overtly nasty, and just generally risk coming off as disrespectful. However, for all its brutality and dark subject matter, Snowtown remains a disturbingly raw and honest look at one of the most terrible men to have ever walked the streets of Australia, or anywhere else for that matter.
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There are so many things at play in this film. Underrated Australian actor Daniel Henshall brings John Bunting to life in an especially dangerous manner. He’s not a big, huge man, but even in his quietest moments there’s this simmering power right below this soft and smiley exterior. It isn’t evident right away. As the movie progresses, you start to understand there’s something very wrong with him. Because at first he’s really a white knight for Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway). Though we know who John Bunting is, or most of us do coming to the film, there’s still a questionable aspect to his character here. He’s doing what a lot of people say they’d do to paedophiles, rapists. Along the line things start to become clearer, and the fact Bunting is stealing welfare cheques, prescriptions, et cetera, is a little less knight in shining armour. Not just that we see how reckless the judge, jury, executioner routine becomes, as John starts to need less and less proof. Furthermore, he and his pal Robert start to close ranks. Bit by bit they start to kill people closer to home. And all the while there are times you’ve really got to question your own morality, whether some of these people deserved death. Likely if you’re a real good person, there won’t be anything relatable about Bunting or his crimes. I don’t identify with him whatsoever. But seeing some of the troubles of these lower class families it makes you wonder if getting some deviants off the streets wasn’t the right thing. Until things go much, much too far. There’s one murder in particular that is devastating. Then you can see Bunting exactly for the monster he is. What once was the disguise of a vigilante is then revealed to be plain and simple psychopathy.
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What’s incredibly interesting is the relationship between Bunting and Jamie. After we’ve seen the abuse Jamie’s suffered at the hands of his mother’s old boyfriend, and even his own stepbrother, there’s a scene where they’re eating supper together. John casually asks Jamie if he likes “being fucked“, and you can see the young man’s surprise at hearing it so openly. After that he slowly reels Jamie into his grasp. Even to his mother, Jamie says not to fuck up her relationship with John after they’ve had a big argument. He gets indoctrinated gradually. It doesn’t matter that his own friend gets murdered, he goes along. Jamie then finds himself along for a brutal, dark ride. Because in the end, it’s all about the socioeconomic realities of Jamie and his life as a disadvantaged young man, stuck in housing projects, forever doomed to be part of the lower class without any real hope going forward. Along comes Bunting, who knows how to pull a fast one – even if by murder – and figures out ways to scam the system. Sadly, for Jamie, there is nothing else in the way of hope. So inadvertently, after everything he’s seen Bunting do, after his own personal heartache, Jamie becomes this pawn in a series of murders.
There are some gorgeously poignant scenes throughout the screenplay, which Kurzel brings to life. There’s one scene that felt to epitomize Jamie’s situation – he sits near the fire at a big party outside, he just watches as everyone else jumps around, dancing, having fun, and you can really feel the weight of everything bearing down upon him. Another perfectly captured moment is when John’s got Jamie out posing as a dead man so they can get an extra cheque from the government; John sits just behind the young man, peeking out around him, and it’s just about the most dead-on image of Bunting that you can find. He is the mastermind behind all their misery.
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The cinematography is very natural. I love the style of directing that Kurzel uses herebecause we really start to feel a part of this world. As disgustingly gritty as it is, the life of John Bunting and his associates feels all too real. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (True Detective Season 1, Top of the LakeLore) is someone whose work I’ve enjoyed over the past handful of years, ever since I first got the chance to see Animal Kingdom. He’s able to make things feel like they’re not simply blocked and set in front of a camera. There’s a wonderful chaos and frenetic feel to his lens, yet contained chaos. His close focus on the characters and their actions take us into their lives. In the slow burning moments, which are plenty, the story moves along so well because Arkapaw allows us to feel directly in every last moment, as opposed to stuck outside looking at perfect frames constantly. Things don’t always need to be steady and centered and composed like an equation. Arkapaw’s camera helps us connect, even if that’s a difficult, horrifying task.
Even better, director Justin’s younger brother Jed is an amazing composer, and he lends his talents to Snowtown with a beautiful score to underpin all the macabre events of its story. His music is this haunting soundtrack, one that makes strange moments in the screenplay feel like dreams. And even with all the realism of the camerawork there are still times where all the various pieces out of the score almost give off a surreal atmosphere.
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There were a couple things I wish were more clear in the screenplay. A few things involving John Bunting’s character I never quite fully grasped that felt a little too cryptic. But overall, Snowtown is one of the greatest films concerning real life crime I’ve seen. It is so brutally, openly honest about its subject matter, and its main subject in Bunting. Whereas some many find it an endurance test at points because of its few graphic bits, this is much more a psychological crime film than horror. At the same time, it is most certainly a terrifying piece of cinema. Both Lucas Pittaway and Daniel Henshall give spectacular performances that make the characters of Jamie Vlassakis and John Bunting feel totally real. The look and feel of the film as a whole makes its plot that much more effective. Also, Kurzel used many locals who had never acted, most from a rough location called Davoren Park (around where many of the murders took place), which further lends authenticity to the whole production; aside from Henshall and Richard Green, everyone else was pretty much picked up from that area. Although a few reviews I’ve seen seem to toss this off as a bunch of boring, slow moving cinema with a shock or two and real life crime as its basis, for me Snowtown is a frank and chilling tale of how the lower echelons of society are susceptible to dangerous influence, and they are at much more risk than alcoholism, getting diabetes, heart disease, any of the normal things you’d hear. Bunting was pretty much evil incarnate. He struck at the weak and the economically crippled, the easier his target the better. Kurzel manages to make an interesting and suspenseful journey out of some of the most shocking murders in Australian history.

Acceptance or Redemption in These Final Hours

These Final Hours. 2014. Directed & Written by Zak Hilditch.
Starring Nathan Phillips, Jessica De Gouw, Daniel Henshall, Kathryn Beck, Angourie Rice, and David Field.
8th In Line/XYZ Films.
Rated 18A. 87 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★
these-final-hours-(2013)-large-picture Always a fan of Australian films, whether bigger budget or the opposite, it surprisingly took me a while to come around and watch These Final Hours. I’d actually queued it up on my list on Netflix back when it was first added to the service. Only recently when I saw Stephen King tweet his support of the film did I decide to give it a go.
I’m not particularly huge on end of the world scenarios, though, there are several movies which use the idea to craft something incredibly unique. For me, this is one of those movies which is more than the sum of its seemingly typical parts. Director-writer Zak Hilditch takes the apocalypse and crafts it into something not full of action and special effects, laden with CGI and nonsense one-liners, but rather an intensely emotional piece of film with a dose of reality, raw characters, and a chaotic atmosphere filled with, at times, dread while others time it’s pure adrenaline.

These Final Hours takes place in Perth, Australia, where there are twelve hours left before a world ending event. Everyone is either going mad, or going to a party, or simply waiting things out to the bitter finish. James is heading to the apocalypse party, ready to ride it out and not simply sit around waiting for everything to come to a close. Behind him he leaves Zoe, all alone.
By chance, though, James finds himself in the position to gain redemption, as he ends up saving the life of a little girl named Rose. With her along for the ride, James eventually comes to understand what’s important in the final few hours of all life on Earth, and he becomes someone else, someone better, regardless if it’s too late.
9328098_origThese Final Hours excels hugely in the area of grimness. Maybe that’s not exactly what everyone else is looking for, however, in modern post-apocalyptic films I love such as The Road (based on the incredible novel from Cormac McCarthy), Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and even classics like The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price (and the best big screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend), the grim qualities are the best qualities.
Right off the top, there’s just moment after moment of almost horror really. While the majority of the movie is absolutely a dramatic thriller, the opening sets a deep, dark tone. The atmosphere of the film is heavy almost every single step of the way, a constant and consistent weight made out of mayhem, murder, and a relentless pace.
SPOILER AHEAD I think my favourite moment in terms of this film’s grimness is when James (Nathan Phillips) comes upon the father of Rose (Angourie Rice), as well as other adults. They’re lying in a clearing, dead, and even though I was expecting something like that it still hit me like a ton of bricks. There’s a casual manner in how the camera sort meanders along in the woods amongst the trees with James before coming across the bodies that draws us in closely; expected, but effectively executed so that it creeps up and pounces. There are a few great scenes in which this technique comes up. This one is most certainly my favourite, maybe the best.
TheseFinal_1Though even above these grim bits and pieces, the character of James and his personal journey is what makes These Final Hours into a pretty incredible film. He is, by all accounts, a selfish man more concerned with going to a party at the end of the world than anything else. Even when confronted with young Rose (Angourie Rice), he’s still hesitant to even get involved. Soon he does and this is what shapes the end of his world, specifically. Being forced into caring for this little girl, thrown into a situation he never could’ve anticipated, James is in turn forced outside of himself. In the course of the film James moves from being someone unlikeable to a near noble-like character; we see him looking after Rose, patting her head and putting her seatbelt on, a very far cry from the way he’d been ordering her around originally and getting exasperated with the task of looking after her. I think James is one hell of a great example of how the transformation of a character can truly be a remarkable part of a film.
Nathan Phillips does an excellent job with the character. I’ve liked him in a few other things, from the frightening Wolf Creek to Dying Breed and others. But this film boasts the best of Phillips I’ve yet to see. He starts off fairly despicable at moments, yet always charming even in a lowlife kind of way. It’s this charm which really helps once the character’s turn comes into play. Then he’s still a bit weaselly, but it’s something you can forgive him.. Not only that, the range Phillips displays is excellent. When he drives away from Rose, I found myself tearing up because the emotional journey James takes us on gets intense and the scene played out perfect; his crying in silence underneath the score, driving faster and faster on his way back to Zoe, away from Rose, it’s all SO wonderfully sad that you can feel it under your fingernails.
Young Angourie Rice is a talent. She was perfect acting opposite Phillips’ James as the tenacious Rose. What I liked is that, the character is written not as a weak child but instead a smart, tough young girl. Further than that, Rice portrays the character as such in every way. There are scenes with a woman who thinks Rose is a girl named Mandy, and I thought the way Rice plays off her were brilliant; unsettling in a sense and very interesting. It’s always great to see a young actor hold their own with adult actors, which honestly we don’t see enough of – not knocking child actors, I just think the heyday for truly brilliant little actors has not come back around since years ago. Rice does well with the character of Rose and makes These Final Hours all the better for her smart performance.
29d51aabe91e these-final-hours-2There are numerous scenes you could talk about out of the film, so needless to say I found it entertaining, as well as that the whole thing had a heavy impact. Overall, absolutely a 4 out of 5 star film. I could’ve honestly done with maybe an extra fifteen minutes, and I also thought the finale could’ve used a minor tweak, but mostly this one awesome movie. Not many apocalypse/end of the world thrillers, whether action or drama, really end up getting to me. On the contrary, some films are exceptions to that unofficial rule of mine: These Final Hours is one such film in recent memory.
I’ve you not seen this, it’s on Canadian Netflix currently as of my writing this review. Either way you should seek it out. An interesting, and at times unique, plot and story, several stellar performances, and a lot of grim imagery make this a must see. I’ve no doubt you’ll be entertained, as the pace keeps up steady with lots of interesting and wild things happening from visuals to plot movement. If you’re bored with this movie, I honestly don’t know how to help you.