It usually takes a director two to three features to work out the kinks in their style and settle into a comfortable groove of filmmaking. That is not the case, however, for Australian director Justin Kurzel. His debut film, “The Snowtown Murders,” has the confidence and assurance of a director with far more experience under his belt.
Yet even without grading on a curve, it still merits the title of “F.I.L.M. of the Week” for Kurzel’s virtuosic control over mood and atmosphere. Though a title like “The Snowtown Murders” had me in a mindset expecting something like “Bonnie & Clyde,” following a serial killer from their perspective, the film delivers something else entirely.
Kurzel provides all the chilly commentary on the allure of sociopathic killers that you might expect from a Fincher film like “Zodiac” but adds an incredibly satisfying humanist element. “The Snowtown Murders” is less about the titular acts themselves and more about the man who perpetrated them, as well as the entourage of bystanders who did nothing to stop them.
The film is told not from the perspective of the actual murderer, John Bunting, but of a 16-year-old boy Jamie drawn into his web of violence. Bunting spies an opening to tap into some simmering hatred and lust for revenge in a small Australian community, funneling their anger into consent for violent retribution. Kurzel doesn’t sensationalize the goriness of Bunting’s savagery, though he hardly shies away from it, either.
These bloody events help release some of the tension in “The Snowtown Murders,” yet it hardly dissipates between killings. Kurzel allows the very darkness of the story drive the film, something it can only do effectively because of his masterful control over tone. Though he does struggle some with extended sequences of dialogue, his montages are simply mesmerizing. Kurzel strings together some haunting images and makes them pulsate with a broodingly dark energy (also a function of Jed Kurzel’s score). And to think, this is Justin Kurzel’s baseline…