Reality and Escapism: Both brilliant, very different.

Posted: May 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

SNOWTOWN ****1/2

SNOWTOWN, the debut feature from Justin Kurzel, is, in my opinion, an instant classic – and immediately stakes a claim for one of the ten best Australian films of all time. It is also one of the most unsettling films I have ever seen in my life, up there with HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, JACOB’S LADDER, THE BOYS, WAKE IN FRIGHT, A SERBIAN FILM and the first thirty minutes of BAD BOY BUBBY. Examining the true story of the seduction of Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) into the serial-killing gang lead by John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) in the late 1990s, the film is unrelentingly grim, brutal, and terrifying. Rather than employ anything close to sensationalistic, lurid or exploitative techniques, Kurzel instead takes an extremely precise, thoughtful and “artful” approach that is far more disturbing than traditional examples of “horror film” direction. The actors – almost entirely composed of local non-actors Kurzel gathered from the Adelaide suburb where the bulk of the film takes place – perform the story with ultra-realism, an aesthetic echoed in the production design and art direction (Fiona Crombie and Chris Jobson, who both deserve acclaim and awards for their devastatingly good work here). Kurzel starts the story slowly, letting us in on the underprivileged and quietly desperate lives of his main characters, and the arrival of Bunting, who will end up destroying countless lives, goes without any underlining, any dramatic “effect” at all, so that he creeps up on us as he did those whom he corrupted. As far as I could tell, it is not until at least forty minutes in that Kurzel uses any music, and so, while the film is not shot “documentary style”, the realism of the acting and design, and the bravely elliptical editing by Veronika Jenet, give us a sense that we are observing absolute real life – and what a grim life it is; the socio-economic milieu of the film is as much a horror as Bunting, in its way: there’s not much hope here. Eventually, Kurzel begins to use music, and it’s some of the most terrifying music you’ll ever here (composed by his brother Jed Kurzel), and little by little adds slightly more stylistic touches in the sound design and framing (the brilliant cinematography is by ANIMAL KINGDOM’S Adam Arkapaw) to start really messing with our heads; basically, the filmmaker here is echoing Bunting’s methods of seduction, and creating in our heads an echo of the desecration of Vlassakis’ own mind: we have been lured in by reality but are now at the whim of a master manipulator, and our descent into a world composed of nothing but nightmare is unstoppable. We await the next grotesquery with dread but also anticipation: it is at least more interesting than the banal, tragic life we are rapidly leaving behind. To achieve this sense of audience complicity – with one of the most monstrous movie villains ever – is an utterly astonishing feat from a first time feature filmmaker, and must reflect an enormous amount of planning and thought. Kurzel follows Michod as Australia’s Next Great Filmmaker; SNOWTOWN is definitely, and defiantly, Australia’s Next Great Film, and the scariest it has ever produced.

SOURCE CODE ****1/2

SOURCE CODE, the new technological thriller from Duncan Jones (who debuted rather spectacularly with MOON) is a thrilling, enormously fun ride from start to finish. From the opening credit sequence, full of almost over-the-top dramatically jazzy music, helicopter shots and a 1970s-style font, this film screams “You’re here to have a good time!” Pure escapism at its very best, the film follows beautifully in MOON’s wake by sharing with it the virtues of sound interior logic, unity of time, place and action, excellent acting (from Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright) and stylish production design, then adds some thrilling action, a dash of romance and, above all else, an absolutely cracking pace. It might sound ridiculous to think that the pich for the film could have been “it’s GROUNDHOG DAY meets INCEPTION” but that’s pretty darn accurate. Recommended for all audiences.

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