Cigarettes are sucked hungrily by all involved, old and young, in the trashscape of this depressing Australian crime film---a movie that heaps so much dank atmosphere on its suburbanites, you can't help but sigh with relief when events turn to serial killing (finally?). In a similar vein to 2009's Animal Kingdom (but lacking that film's expert performances), The Snowtown Murders is derived from some real-life awfulness: Oz's worst killer, John Bunting, preyed on at least 11 lives for thrills. The plot is initially set up as a sad domestic drama, with single mom Lizzie (Harris) trying to protect her three sons from a pedophile who lives across the street.
Almost heroically, in comes John (Henshall, magnetic), a bearded neighborhood vigilante who channels the rage of all who would listen into explicit fantasies of torture. How long will it be before his dreams become reality? A hacked-up kangaroo in the front yard doesn't bode well; at this point, you should probably gird your stomach with steel. Debuting feature-director Justin Kurzel---getting superb help from composer brother Jed---creates a mood in which everything (and everyone) feels disposable, but that success has a negative impact on our involvement with the characters. When the nicest one of them morphs into an accomplice, you'll be pinwheeling for the door.
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