Australian gothic is far from a new term; scriptwriter Everett de Roche described his work as an example of it, including The Long Weekend, and other instances people give are Wake in Fright, Razorback, Wolf Creek and Picnic at Hanging Rock. But what would an Australian suburban Gothic look like, and could this be a useful way to describe the epidermically terrifying Snowtown, a film that really does get under the skin? Jonathan Rayner has shown in an essay 'Gothic Definitions: Cinema of Horrors', a strong interest in a Gothic Australian terror cinema that could even include Walkabout, Bliss and The Last Wave, as Rayner suggests understandably that the horror is evident in numerous manifestations, as though there is something haunting and frightening about the size of the country that shrinks anyone passing through it. It is as though the geographic possesses a metaphysic: that the space itself allows for possibilities far beyond the reach of mere ready reality. Yet what is interesting about the Suburban Australian Gothic of Snowtown isn't only that it tends to suggest the evil lies in the limited spaces of the conurbation but that it also resides in fact rather than the further reaches of fantastic fear. Snowtown is based clearly on actual events but gives to the story a hint of transcendent evil that nevertheless remains grounded not just in the rational but in the murky misery of the everyday. Some of the finest Australian films of the seventies explored with great visual astuteness the landscape which the individual was so small against, and none more so than several of the aforementioned works: British director Nic Roeg's Walkabout, Canadian Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright and Australia's own Peter Weir in Picnic at Hanging Rock and also The Last Wave, with their suggestion of the supernatural or the other-worldly. Yet Snowtown suggests a small-scale evil: that misery, like charity, begins at home.
In Snowtown, the wide-open spaces that allow Australia to have a population density of 3.1 people per square kilometre (next to the UK's 275) give way to residential claustrophobia, explained well by director Justin Kunzel who discusses the deleted scenes on the DVD extras. Several scenes show the central character's interest in a woman slightly older, but Kurzel saw that while the scenes worked in themselves, they diluted a little the enclosed atmosphere he wanted to create. This was a story about a sixteen-year-old boy Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) desperate for a father-figure and finding him in someone whose energy and charisma can't readily be separated from his calculating aggression and his prejudiced outlook. John (Daniel Henshall) generates complicity with the boy and makes himself immediately at home within the family. By suggesting Jamie could be influenced also by a woman he is attracted to gets in the way of the film's preoccupation, which is to generate a world that suggests no exit. In this horrific example of Australian Suburban Gothic, the film reverses an assumption that the danger and threat lie in the agoraphobic endlessness of Australian geography. It is an assumption Brian McFarlane expresses well when he says, writing on the New Wave of Australian cinema: "a sudden long shot of its mesas and dry valleys can reduce man to dwarfish ineffectuality; a silhouetted figure in the foreground can render his heroic possibilities in a landscape potentially inimical to man. This kind of duality this awareness of menace as well as spectacular beauty has been a recurring characteristic in modern Australian film. (Australian Cinema: 1970-1985)
In Snowtown, the emphasis rests on those who are stuck rather than free while it tells the story of Australia's most notorious killer from the perspective of a boy whom the murderer takes under his wing, turning a dove into a hawk. The film brilliantly gives the impression that Jamie has few other options as he falls in with this man who takes up with his mother Elizabeth. While we quickly see a man whose charisma rests almost entirely on preying on the weak aided by those who themselves are not strong, Jamie sees someone who will at last prove a decent father figure after numerous other men who have passed through his mother's life have proved too weak, have disappeared or shown as much sexual interest in Jamie and his brothers as their mum. While half the irony in a well-known example of Australian Gothic, The Long Weekend, is that a comfortably off couple go out into nature and discover how vicious it can be, in Snowtown, a little like Acute Misfortune, which also stars the same actor (Henshall), most of the atrocities take place domestically, in the bathroom at Jamie's house and at a disused bank nearby. As Kurzel says: "The psychology of the violence in Snowtown is really compelling. The fact that a lot of this happened out of a domesticity, in the day, in suburbs, with schools just up the road. While they were killing people they were watching TV. There was a kind of ordinariness about it all that I found chilling." (DIY) In Acute Misfortune, a journalist goes to the outskirts of Sydney and meets up with a well-known artist after writing a favourable piece on the painter. Though the setting is strictly the Blue Mountains, where artist Adam Cullen lived, director Thomas M. Wright manages to convey less the wide-open spaces available to him than the encroaching sense that once the journalist gets involved in Cullen's world there won't easily be a way to back out. If there are similarities between Snowtown and Acute Misfortune it doesn't only rest on the presence of Daniel Henshall playing John in the earlier film and the artist in the latter, but also in both films emphasising that no matter how wide-open a space happens to be, when you are involved in a particular dynamic and the closing down of locale, a horror emerges that cannot be opened up again just by space.
When Adrian Martin discusses Acute Misfortune he autobiographically talks about how he moved in similar circles to Cullen in the late eighties and early nineties and then says: "let's consider what the film is not. It's not about any of the microscopic artworld contexts of intrigue that I've so far mentioned - apart from a fairly generic "anxious art dealer" figure looming at the edges, there's nothing about the 1990s milieux of art school, the salivating critics, or the diverse "movements" (such as grunge or "scrounge" art) with which Cullen was, at one time or another, associated. (Adrian Martin). The film is "a two-hander drama - the story of a relationship between two men. On that level, it is almost a kind of intimacy thriller" as Martin quotes a key line in the film: "There's nothing in history that you can't find in the suburbs." Martin mentions this negatively and no doubt this is both the film and Cullen's hyperbole. But from a certain point of view, everything can be found in the suburbs if the suburbs are turned into everything. Vital to the aesthetic is how to do that; how to take a cinema that has at its disposal vast natural beauty and shrink it to flat houses, wide streets and littered gardens? Just as Kunzel can see that accommodating an extra character can obviate the aesthetic intentions, so Wright so clearly saw that an exploration of Cullen's aesthetic scene, while he was becoming famous, wouldn't add anything to the specifically gothic dimension he was searching out. The question in both Snowtown and Acute Misfortune is how does the environment shrink so that geographical space can no longer rescue it? There are numerous moments in both films where we might wonder why the characters don't do anything about their situations, especially when Jamie is implicated in a series of murders as John decides to take the law into his own hands and proves very effective when it comes to DIY torture techniques. In one scene which shows how complicit Jamie now is in the killings taking place, John asks him to go and grab a bag. It is a tool kit but this isn't to put up a shelf or mend a leak; it contains amongst other things pliers to pull out the victim's toenails. During this sequence, the film cuts to Jamie going outside and looking across the street as young kids pass by on their bicycle. He isn't in the middle of nowhere or locked inside a basement but he might as well be. While as viewers we may wonder why he doesn't escape or tell the police, if the film provokes such thoughts it will rest either on a failure of imagination on our part or a failure on the filmmaker's. If Kunzel has done his job well we know Jamie cannot tell the police or escape because we too share his sense of hopelessness and we know also that everybody in the milieu respects and admires John. Jamie has been sexually abused both by a neighbour who was looking after him, and by the half-brother who lives with them. He is a weakened character in a situation where John seems the model of strength. It would be a failure to imagine our way into Jamie's predicament that leads us to assume there are options available to him.
Thus if the director has done his job well it will be a case of the viewer doing their job badly if they expect Jamie to do something about his predicament when the film makes clear he cannot. The film leaves no room for the generic expectation that after terrible things have been done, those terrible things must be avenged. However, if Kunzel has done his job 'badly' then that would mean he hadn't closed down enough the milieu and suggested a couple of options are available to Jamie that aren't utilised. The older girl would have been such an instance and Kunzel knew that he had to lose the character altogether. Another would have been making Elizabeth's hovering ex a stronger character, someone who we might seem capable of standing up to John and to whom Jamie might turn. But the film makes clear there is no complicity between Jamie and the ex, and nothing in the ex to indicate that while he seems to be a fair and decent man, he would stand up to John. There is one scene while a dozen of them are around the kitchen table and the ex is amongst them. John is asking everyone what they would do if a paedophile was in their midst and various people pipe up with deplorable options. "It's not fucking mean if you kick the shit out of some diseased prick" John insists and after a while the ex says that what they're offering is bravado, unaware that John is indeed happy to put his words into action. The ex shows in this moment his decency but not his authority. When he looks at John, John holds the gaze but the ex knows that he cannot meet the other's man's force. He is not presented as someone to help Jamie get out from under John's spell.
A more generically minded film would indicate the ex's strength and we might wait for him to become the role model Jamie needs as he sorts John out. Instead what happens is that the scene allows the film to turn darker still. As John first quizzes Jamie asking him what he would do, and then later asks Jamie's half-brother Troy, who has earlier in the film raped Jamie, so it sets up the moment a little later on where he is tortured and murdered in the bathroom after Jamie has obviously told John about the abuse. Revenge is indeed offered but in a manner that is unlikely to leave anybody feeling that Troy is getting what he deserves no matter how horrific we had earlier found Troy's raping of Jamie. Yet one reason that the latter scene offers no relief, despite it countering the earlier one which shows Jamie awfully abused, is that Kunzel indicates that there is no difference between the acts partly because he offers an aesthetic form that doesn't distinguish them. Part of being a good filmmaker in this instance rests on refusing a generic modulation that allows two ostensibly similar deeds to be treated in a cinematically different way. Revenge in film is often a dish far from served cold and usually the best way to offer it is in heated moments where the avenger takes on the villains indicating an agency on the villain's part that must be countered by the hero's. In Dirty Harry or Death Wish our heroes risk their lives to take down baddies who would kill them given the opportunity. When Troy is tortured and killed there is no 'heat' to the scene just as there has been no heat to the rape either. Both are presented as cold scenes of power abuse. In the earlier one, Jamie is pinned to the ground and Troy lies on top of him as pulls his trousers down and penetrates him. All the while, the camera is positioned in the sitting room and we watch the moment take place between the door frame. In the later one, often the scene is viewed from Jamie's point of view, an onlooker to a torture that he presumably instigated but whose consequences he seems keen to avoid. By the end of the sequence, it will be Jamie who murders Troy but only to stop the torture rather than through a wish to kill.
In both scenes, sport on television plays in the background, a nod to Michael Haneke who in Funny Games utilised the TV in the scene as a means by which to register the gap between the horrors in the house and the indifference of the world beyond it. As in Haneke's film, the scenes are cold and one is left watching rather than engaging. There is nothing to suggest the heated action of a generic work. Of course, some might insist that the pessimism the film offers is intrinsic to the true story it is based upon but, as Tarantino has shown us in Inglorious Basterds and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the dramatising of real events needn't be seen as any impediment when a director is determined to impose the generic upon the actual. And numerous other films while less cavalier with the facts have often romanticised the characters, from the brilliant Bonnie and Clyde to the fine American Gangster. Also, if Kunzel's purpose was fidelity to fact, how could he excise an important character in the real-life Jamie's existence?
By suggesting Snowtown is a fine example of Australian Suburban Gothic one needn't indicate that Kunzel has no interest in the actual case it is based upon but to suggest that, no matter the reality out of which the film comes, a fiction film is a specific thing with its own internal demands. Kunzel could see that the older girl didn't fit into the structure of the work and removed her. We could call this invisible versus visible artistic licence. While Tarantino very visibly plays with the facts in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to show that Sharon Tate needn't be killed by crazed hippies, numerous films offer minor changes that are consistent with the vision but needn't alter the broader history. Titanic turns a secondary character into a villain rather than the hero he was seen to be by the villagers in Dalbeattie but it didn't end with the Titanic steering clear of the iceberg. In this sense, Kunzel offers invisible aesthetic license like James Cameron and unlike Tarantino. Yet the more interesting the vision the more inclined the filmmaker will be to rearrange a few details all the better to bring out an aesthetic specificity. One of the problems with many a biopic is that it feels obliged to focus on the key facts of an existence to the detriment of a reimagining which can bring an actual person to life as a cinematic character. In another film that has a loose affiliation with Snowtown (and which too can be seen as an example of Australian suburban Gothic, Chopper, director Andrew Dominick suggests an absurdist Melbourne suburbia indebted visually to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, a place where the titular character looms large as a man who can't control his temper, can't stop apologising to those he has hurt and can't stop telling lies about his actions. Dominick brings him to life as a character but to the detriment of any reality that the film might have registered. This is no more Melbourne than Tarantino's films are LA they are locations for a broad-brush aesthetic which insists when you have a choice between a nuanced fidelity and a caricatural fantasy, go with the latter. In the DVD extras on Chopper, there is footage of the real-life Chopper, Mark Read, offering a series of anecdotes concerning his criminal deeds. In one, he talks about taking money off a couple of drug dealers and describing people with more money than sense. He says in the living room there were televisions piled on top of each other. Each time something got on one of the drug dealer's nerves he'd kick the TV in and, rather than getting rid of it, would just place another TV on top of it. There were all these TVs piled up with only the top one working. It is a good story, well told, but the interviewers snigger in the background without enquiring too far into the specifics of the incident. Dominick's approach is much the same, a wide-eyed fascination with a man of violence, given a bit of self-reflexivity by showing Chopper watching in prison a TV interview he gave to an Australian national network. There Chopper is, both the man on telly who has written a best-selling book about his escapades even though he can't spell, and the man locked up who when he did get out on a previous occasion had to lop off his ears and blame somebody else for the deed to get released.
Chopper makes little of the violence doled out by Read and the violence he receives, as if violence is something that a criminal class administers to each other without much pain involved. The film suggests a desensitization amongst the characters that the audience then receives as different modes of the desensitized as viewing subject. In other words, we assume that the violence criminals do to each other is as painless as the violence the film does to us. When Chopper meets up again with someone he has shot, he explains to the man that he should feel very lucky that Chopper merely crippled him: originally he was going to shoot him in the head. The film doesn't register the pain of the injury but the good fortune of a man who could have had his head blown off. The man thanks Chopper for his magnanimity and the audience is gratified by humour rather than traumatised by brutality. What Dominick does is take an actual person in the world and places him in a familiar generic landscape as a fiction. If it escapes biopic convention, it falls into another set of conventions instead.
If Snowtown is vastly the better film it rests on placing its real-life characters in a milieu that Kunzel makes his own without making it generic, well aware that his characters are his without denying their place in a world in which he has extracted them. In such an approach the filmmaker doesn't only have a narratological relationship with the image, which in its simplest formation means what drives the story along, but also insists on a demand that moves in two directions. On the one side, there is an obligation to give an accurate portrait of the Adelaide milieu in which Jamie and his family live; on the other a need to shape a work that manages to make out of this reality an aesthetic object. Out of such an approach a tension develops as the filmmaker is aware that too great a respect for reality can leave a work flaccid, while a preoccupation with the storytelling can leave the film too reliant on tropes and expectations. A director needs to find a thematic that can bring together the various demands placed upon a work and find in the film a truth that is greater than the factual if they choose to deviate from it. When we talk of invisible artistic licence, much will depend on what that invisibility will consist of, how it will contribute to the film as it departs from reality. Cameron in Titanic needed broad character types and so found one in a man who has a more nuanced heroism in his home village, a nuance that wouldn't have been much use to Cameron when he needed to find people to blame for the boat going down. Many people will know the history of the Titanic and may know too the actions of many onboard but even if one didn't we will know at least the conventions which make a character villainous. Few outside Australia watching Snowtown are likely to know very much about the case and cannot, based on watching it, surmise that it is utilising convention because the older girl has been excised from the film altogether. Just as there is visible and invisible artistic license so there happens occasionally to be invisible artistic license that is based on excision rather than inclusion. If films like Once upon a Time in Hollywood, Ingorious Basterds and Baader (which allows the Red Army Faction to go down in a hail of bullets rather than dying in Stammheim) insist on the visible, and many films include characters and situations slightly altered, in this instance Kunzel removes a character from the narrative altogether.
Yet this choice seems somehow consistent with the film's general aesthetic, one that focuses on the elliptical all the better to register the impotence of the central character. The point of the visible aesthetic licence evident in the two Tarantino films is to indicate just how much agency the characters have: they can actively change history not only impose themselves on a story that allows them to get a job done. In Snowtown, Jamie has no agency, evident early on when his mother Elizabeth is out and a neighbour looks after the kids. The neighbour takes photographs of the younger children first and then we see Jamie initially from behind, removing his underpants, turning to the offscreen neighbour, Jeffrey. The film cuts to an empty frame, a medium-long shot of the kitchen/dining area, before the naked Jeffrey enters and sits down on the chair smoking a cigarette. The suggestion is that he has raped the kids and almost certainly at least Jamie. Rather than the big brother who saves his younger siblings from abuse, it appears certain that he has been the one unequivocally abused. When Elizabeth returns she notices the kids are very quiet and knows something has happened, runs across the street and, after initially following her in jerky long shot, the camera remains a few metres from Elizabeth as she yells and shouts, beating the neighbour around the head and body. "What have you done to my boys?" she screams, and we might wonder if that passive gaze looking on could be Jamie's. Sure enough, we have the reverse angle Jamie and his two younger brothers watching as the mother lays into Jeffrey. There is no suggestion Jamie has even told his mother what happened but this passivity is relatively healthy since when he does become involved in ostensibly asserting himself we might wonder if the assertion is at all his own. A little later, after John starts seeing his mother, Jamie watches him chopping up several dead kangaroos. John asks Jamie to throw some bits into a bucket and they then throw the grisly body parts at Jeffrey's house, offloading the rest of the bucket on the couch sitting out the front. This is less Jamie getting revenge than finding in John a new man in whose presence he happens to be passive. While Jeffrey took advantage of his weakness in one way, John will do so in another as he becomes increasingly implicated in John's crimes.
Jamie never engages in events even when he is involved in them and the implicative aspect is matched by the elliptical editing Kunzel and Veronika (The Piano, Lore, Rabbit Proof Fence) Jenet adopt, as though they had asked themselves what editing procedures were required to remain within the unassertive demeanour of its central character. When Elizabeth goes across the street to attack Jeffrey, the film knows that it isn't her rage that is what matters most but Jamie's inability to do anything about it himself. Even before the cut back to Jamie and his brothers we sense that he is looking on. Frequently, the film invokes Jamie's perspective before revealing it, giving numerous scenes not a voyeuristic quality that was always going to threaten a film about morally, intellectually and materially impoverished lives on the outskirts of Adelaide, but an anxious one that is caught between the filmmaker's and the character's. If there is no moment of humour in the film it is partly because there is nothing but anxiety in the central character, a teenage boy watching the word stunned by the people who wander in and out of it. In one scene when John and Elizabeth are early in their relationship, they are dancing at a three-quarters empty social club (the town's population is around five hundred people) and as they dance the film is in slow motion and the soundtrack suggests a darkness absent from their happy faces. During the dance, the film cuts away to Jamie, pleased that his mother has met a man she can rely upon as the film then cuts to Jamie riding with John on his motorbike. The soundtrack covers both scenes and ends with Jamie smiling; an image of happiness countered by a musical score of foreshadowed anxiety.
The image too suggests implication rather than engagement, with Kurzel's regular cameraman Adam Arkapaw constantly finding ways to show Jamie caught in states of passivity. It might be a low angle shot blurred in the foreground as he sits on the couch in the scene where his brother will soon sodomise him, or in a shot-counter-shot scene when John asks him if he likes being fucked. The camera in the latter instance is in tight as it moves from one face to the other, with John's insistence that Jamie grows some balls. It is less a scene that shows Jamie beginning to assert himself, than one which indicates just how much power John has over the teenager. They are sitting there in John's house with their heads shaved under John's instigation and what happens next is that John will insist his own dog be shot to prove that what matters is asserting yourself even if it happens to be over an innocent animal who is your very pet. Watching the beginning of the sequence as they stand in the garden looking at their reflections in the window, we can see in the foreground the dog that has no apparent role thus far in the story and who will again seem extraneously present, or merely another object in the frame, when the films cuts away from Jamie at the table to a medium-long shot of John re-entering the room as he puts a gun on the table. The dog is in the foreground lying on the floor and anyone watching the visual telling of the story may wonder if these shots have a purpose and sure enough they do when John compels Jamie to shoot the animal. Jamie does so not with any aggression on his part but from the sudden raised voice of John which jerks Jamie into pulling the trigger. Once again he is implicated in a deed, rather than involved in an action, as the editing and the camerawork make clear that Jamie isn't at all the master of his destiny.
There have been a number of books on the murders and looking at the beginning of a couple of them can suggest just how many ways into the story there happen to be. Debi Marshall's prologue opens with a dying Elizabeth Harvey acknowledging that her husband involved one of her sons in killing another of her children and also his step-brother, before the book journeys back to John Bunting's upbringing near Brisbane and his incipient criminality. Jeremy Pudney starts by focusing on Adelaide and describes the geography of the place before alighting on the detectives who discovered the bodies in 1999. The former suggests a story of guilt and responsibility; the latter an investigative purpose. Kunzel's film is all the better for choosing the oblique angle of a teenager whose coming of age is both conflicted and constrained, a young man who was a diagnosed schizophrenic and whose disassociation is echoed in the film's refusal to allow him inside the reality of his existence. It is as if John is the man who takes him out of himself but such a release is just part of a greater imprisonment. When he watches John and his buddy torturing Troy there is nothing to indicate this is what he wishes to take place even if the point is retribution for Troy's earlier abuse of Jamie. As Jamie finishes off the job after John administers a series of semi-strangulations, so Jamie cries and sobs knowing that he is almost as helpless as the half-brother he strangles. He does it not out of anger or revenge but determined to see his brother suffer no longer. What makes Snowtown such a difficult viewing experience isn't that the film is any more violent than many others but that the position on the violence happens to be one that leaves the viewer feeling it lacks the capacity to do anything about it.
It seems this is what so interests Kurzel: how to make a film that doesn't fall into the agency of either the killers or the detectives? When John Orr proposes that "movie-typical killers have to adhere to the laws of narrative suspense" (The Art and Politics of Film), we might add no less so the detective tracking down the mass murderer. Whether focalised on the killer who notches up the numbers or the cop determined to get their man before another murder takes place, both offer a modulated tension that can move with the ebb and flow of the killer or cop's determinations. Kurzel offers instead the ineluctable with the viewer as trapped and incapable as the character the film chooses as its viewpoint. "I was saying in another interview, we're all paper thin. It's almost like we're standing on the precipice of madness. I think there's a very small step from opening up a door and sinking into that. Because we're surrounded constantly by insecurities, loss, grief, who we are. I think those questions and those fears about what we could become - we wrestle with those everyday." (Den of Geek) John comes into Jamie's life and Jamie, who is already sinking, misguidedly believes instead he happens to be soaring. Snowtown examines not at all the forensic intricacies of detection and cares little for the means and methods of serial killing. It instead wonders what happens when a weak-minded teen meets a particular type of role model. John is from a certain perspective good for Jamie as he teaches him how to ride a motorbike, showing patience and offering praise, just as he looks at him directly and asks how Jamie feels about being sexually abused, and just as he insists the boy shouldn't be taking prescription drugs. By emphasising the anxiety and fragility of Jamie, the film indicates that it would be all very well us following a killer's deeds and simultaneously the investigation of the crimes but what matters most is an inquiry into domestic dynamics, into delineating a situation so emotionally messy that a psychopath can walk into a family's life and give it stability. Marshall's book has as one of its epigraphs a remark by the psychiatrist Karl Menninger: "what's done to children will be done to society." Though the film doesn't go into the past histories of the characters as books about the Snowtown murders do, it is clear that we have a dysfunctional family with a mother who is errant in her parenting without being indifferent to her kids. She lives, like many of the characters in the film, without a sense of responsibility but a retroactive sense of justice. When she beats up Jeffrey the deed has been done; instead of responsibly wondering whether this relative stranger should be left looking after her children, she attacks the man's appalling deeds after the error of her ways. Equally, when during large gatherings in the kitchen with everyone smoking and drinking, swearing and getting aggressive, various characters and especially John insist that something needs to be done about the numerous incidents of child abuse in the country. But though Elizabeth says when Jamie wanders into the kitchen that she really doesn't want Jamie to be part of the discussion, John insists he should stay. Elizabeth is trying to be the good parent but from most perspectives the situation looks parentally neglectful as it is.
Yet whether Kurzel judges or not isn't what matters but instead that the film manages to indicate the fragility of self that is exacerbated by the milieu. New York Post critics Lou Lumineck may say that "Kurzel seems to be dubiously arguing that Bunting's crimes were the inevitable byproduct of poverty, addiction, domestic violence and sexual abuse," but such a view suggests that Lumineck judges a film other than the one Kurzel has made. The film proposes if anything that Bunting's crimes aren't the byproduct of poverty but the exploitation of it: that Bunting's background remains vague while Jamie's is very evident. Snowtown muses over whether Jamie would have been a killer in his own right or whether the misery of his life meets with the demands of a murderous father figure. Most of the time people like Jamie live in poverty but don't then spend many years in jail implicated in mass murder. On many occasions, a charismatic figure comes into somebody's life and they don't find themselves asked to shoot a dog, to pick up a torture tool kit, or to strangle someone to death to save the person from further pain. It is the singularity of Jamie's life that interests the director. "It was probably a little bit more of a genre film before I came on board, with points of view from the police. We sat down," Kurzel says, "and got very excited about the point of view of the film being entirely told through Jamie. The more gruesome nature of the events being told through his point of view, and revealed through him." (DIY Mag) By reversing the trope of the terrifying wide-open spaces of Australia and transforming it into the tight interiors of the suburban domestic, Kurzel manages to turn Australian Gothic cinema inside out, finding in Jamie's point of view a way of keeping the focus obsessively narrow. He shows that when a life is so claustrophobic and impoverished, becoming an assistant to a serial killer is the closest one can have to an identity that one call one's own. It is a provocative claim far more extreme than the one Lumineck frets over but it is also what makes it a film of some originality.
© Tony McKibbin