Tagged Jed Kurzel

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.

Mr. Babadook & the Horror of Single Parenthood

The Babadook. 2014. Directed & Written by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, and Tim Purcell. Entertainment One.
93 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★★

This movie certainly has been hyped up a lot as of late. Several critics who’ve written about it all seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Most recently, William Friedkin (for the uninitiated – the legendary director of classics such as The ExorcistSorcerer, The French Connection, and Cruising just to name a few) said he’s “never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadookit will scare the hell out of you as it did me“. If that isn’t praise of the highest order, I do not know what is – the director of one of the most, arguably the most, scary film of all time basically said this film is going to give you nightmares.593500.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx
While I don’t disagree whatsoever with anyone saying this movie is an absolutely terrifying piece of modern horror, I sometimes wish people wouldn’t hype up a film too early before people are able to see it. Not that a film such as The Babadook can’t handle the hype – on the contrary, this movie can eat your soul if you let it. There are times hype can often dull a person’s opinion going into a viewing. Unfortunately, we live in modern times, and such a life, without hype, really no longer exists.
But like I said, The Babadook delivers what the hype has promised. In piles.

Jennifer Kent wrote and directed this film about a recently widowed mother Amelia (Davis) whose late husband died in a car crash while they were on the way to the hospital for her to give birth to their son, Samuel (Wiseman).
Smash cut to 7 years later. Amelia and Samuel aren’t exactly having an easy time with things. Even auntie Claire doesn’t seem to want to be around Sam; everyone thinks he’s weird. Soon, he has to be taken out of school awhile because of his behaviour. Sam doesn’t sleep much anymore. He also starts building weapons to fight off monsters. One night, Sam asks his mother to read him a book; it’s a strange looking, red velvet-ish covered book called “Mister Babadook”, and is filled with strange, twisted imagery. Try and try as she might, Amelia cannot seem to get rid of the book. Her first inclination is that somebody may be stalking her and Sam. Eventually she realizes there are more sinister forces at work.

579632.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxThe plot of The Babadook is really great because it poses as something we’ve seen before yet when things get down to the nitty gritty, this film stands out on its own.
The story is essentially about the darkness of our own minds; fear, guilt, rage. For instance, you always hear the best things about motherhood – aside from throwaway jokes, you never hear moms, especially a relatively new mom, talking about how terrible it can be sometimes when you’re alone, on your own, just you and a screaming, inconsolable child. Kent explores the frightening territory of such stories.

I don’t mean to say Kent is trying to make it seem like all mothers have homicidal thoughts concerning their children or anything. The Babadook is a story that comes down to the dark side of human nature.
The ending, though I won’t actually give it away, is a perfect example of how Kent uses Mister Babadook as a type of metaphor for the darkness and the ugly parts we hide; the things we stuff down, but eventually can, and will, boil up, and maybe even burn somebody. In the last scene when Amelia comes up from the basement and meets Sam in the backyard, her son asks how it went, to which she replies something along the lines of “not as bad today”. Sam looks brightly at his mother with a smile on his face, looking proud, and says “it’s getting better mum”. Right there, you can see how the ending (the basement, et cetera) is a metaphor concerning the darkness, the grief, all the rage and bad feelings – you can never get rid of it (just like The Babadook), it will always be there, however, you learn to live with it, you lock it away, feed it now and then, and go on with your life.
xAnhFfFFXzWfDLd3um3ufTgGTqwOr maybe it’s just a scary movie about a creepy, supernatural figure like something out of a German Expressionist film from the 1920s or 1930s. Who knows. Jennifer Kent wrote it, not me. Although I like how I interpreted it – works for me.

One of the things I really enjoyed was the acting on behalf of Essie Davis. She knocked out a powerhouse performance here. Without a strong female to play the lead here, the film would not be the same. Had a lesser actress been trusted to hold this up, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. She was spectacular. Previously I’d only seen her in the TV adaptation of The Slap. Here, she really impressed.
And honestly, I have to say the same for little Noah Wiseman who played Samuel. There were times I felt his terror was genuine. His face is very expressive. A lot of people online seem to give the consensus they were annoyed with his character; me, I loved it. He was at times the innocent looking little lad Kent wanted him to be.  Others, he was able to convey pure terror and a lot of emotion. Good job on his part.

Another couple noteworthy aspects of the whole production I love include:

– Jed Kurzel’s score: this guy has fast become one of my favourite composers in film as of late. His often quiet, rhythmic scores are beautiful accompaniment to the movies he works on. Previously I’ve really enjoyed his scores for SnowtownDead Europe, and now of course The Babadook. There’s something about the way he scores which makes the music feel like an undercurrent to the film, carrying it along the way a proper score should, and adding to the intensity of emotional or scary moments. The score in this film was a nice and subdued addition I really thought made some of the frightening scenes work even better than expected.
– The look of Mister Babadook himself. The very first time we get a bit of a glimpse at him, I was jarred. As I said before, there’s certainly an element of German Expressionism from the early 20th century in there (think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), which of course I really dig. Looks a lot different than most anything you’ll see nowadays. Instead of going for some demon-like creature, or a monster, Kent opts for a human-looking being with a sort of top hat, long black coat, and eerily long fingers. The face is what really gets me, and I think that’s the part that really reminds me of Caligari specifically. Even the way Babadook moves (the part where he descends upon Amelia in her bed from the ceiling scared the life out of me) reminds me of an old silent film. Very, very creepy.
xmister-babadook-cauchemars-denfance-retour-L-AX1jhX.jpeg.pagespeed.ic.trSDdhaTQmpaBv0qiDZhOverall, I don’t hesitate in giving Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook a raging 5 out of 5. There’s nothing wrong with this movie. While I could’ve done without one part later in the film (a very brief moment in the basement where Amelia throws up; I felt there wasn’t much need of it really is all – not a dealbreaker by any means), everything is absolutely flawless. I can’t find anything I did not like about this film. The suspense and tension was there – that’s one thing I always love in a great horror. If there isn’t any sort of build, no tense moments leading to a greater fear, there’s just no way I’m going to really be genuinely creeped out, and certainly no chance the film will scare me to death. And that is what I’m looking for – I want to be frightened beyond belief.

The Babadook really scared me. There’s no blood and guts. In fact, there are only very quick shots where any blood or anything similar is shown. With this film, what you’re signing on for is truly psychological terror. This isn’t about death here so much as it’s about fear – it’s about the darkness in our hearts, in our minds. This film succeeds in bringing the darkness. Mister Babadook is a horror legend already, as far as I’m concerned. Kent really did a fascinating and unsettling job with this horror. Cannot recommend it enough to do the film justice.
The Babadook is now available on VOD through Amazon and iTunes, as well as finally on DVD and Blu ray.