Movie Review: Unforgettable
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On May 20th, 1999, police in the Australian village of Snowtown made a horrifying discovery in a disused bank vault: eight bodies found in plastic barrels. Soon, more bodies were found, and suspects subsequently arrested. The murders committed by John Justin Bunting and Robert Joe Wagner would become the subject of Justin Kurzel's dramatic debut film.
It seems that there's always been a thing with small towns and murder. It seems that the smaller the town (or country), the more infamous the crimes. Australia's already had one of it's crimes loosely portrayed in 2005's WOLF CREEK, and now after twelve years and a court-rescinded suppression order of what went on, SNOWTOWN (or THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS) gets its tale told.
The first thing that got me about this film is the fact that it looks and feels genuine. So much so, in fact, that you'll at times feel like you're watching a perverse documentary rather than a film. The story is told through the eyes of James Spyridon Vlassakis, a 16-year old boy who with his mother were drawn in by the wiles and charms of John Bunting. Bunting would eventually manipulate and use James to help carry out the murders. At the start of the film, James (or Jamie, as he's called in the film) is obviously scarred from abuse he suffered at the hands of a family friend, who is run out of town by neighbourhood watchman Bunting. From then on, Jamie and the neighbourhood itself is slowly shaped by Bunting's twisted sense of morality and views. You feel and sympathize for Jamie, which is the reason why the film feels the way it does. Had it been from Bunting's point of view, it'd have been unwatchable.
Violence-wise, the film has little onscreen violence, which is probably a good thing given the details of the crimes. Still, the violence that is here isn't pretty, particularly a rape scene that's downright casual in its depiction. The TV blaring in the background doesn't help things, either. Throw in some hard to hear animal cruelty (they don't show it, but you still feel it) and some torture that made me wince, "uncomfortable" is an understatement. It also helps out that the victims of Buntings' crimes are often depicted as being "deserving" of their fate. Needless to say, it's not a fun time.
Any problems associated with the film would be leveled at that not-so-fun time: it's downright depressing. From the conditions of the neighbourhood to the film's use of blue filters, this isn't something you'd put on for a good time. That's the point of the film, after all, but it's not something you'd want to watch if you've had a rough day.
SNOWTOWN isn't a pleasant experience on an emotional level, but that's the goal of the film. Kurzel and his team have put together something that depicts the dark world of a psychopath through the eyes of one of his victims. Not the one that he kills, but rather the one who he snares in his manipulations. If you've got a strong stomach for this type of film, then go for it.
Since this is a screener, the extras aren't final. What's on here are a group of deleted scenes with commentary, original casting footage, a little piece on the real-life Snowtown Murders called The Snowtown Crimes, a Q&A with director Justin Kurzel, Lucas Pittaway and Kim Newman and the film's theatrical trailer.
SNOWTOWN's retelling of the series of murders that occurred in Australia all those years ago is as compelling as it is disturbing. It's not sugarcoated nor is it played up for any reason, and that's what makes it hard to turn away.