A Lower Deep: On Snowtown

The Snowtown Murders Poster

Trigger warning: this post discusses sexual violence.

The following post contains spoilers.


Snowtown. That is the proper title of the film. It is infinitely better than The Snowtown Murders, the title the film was given for its American release. The Snowtown Murders is obvious and boring. Snowtown is mysterious and foreboding; it implies that what happened in Snowtown is unspeakable.

It is a haunting film. It is not so much about the murders themselves, or the man who masterminded them, as it is about an innocent boy’s descent into hell.

Lucas Pittaway stars as the boy in question, the 16 year-old Jamie. An unnerving early scene makes it clear that he, along with his brothers, are being sexually abused by their mother’s boyfriend. In another (even more disturbing) scene, Jamie’s older brother Troy bullies him, wrestles him to the ground, and anally rapes him. Pittaway’s performance is striking in its understatement: he seems resigned to his miserable lot in life; drawn deep into himself, he is there, but he’s not. Observe Pittaway in the poster above: the expressionless face, the blank stare, the body language that suggests that he is trying to disappear into his surroundings. It is a chilling portrait of the nature of trauma, a surface of numbness beneath which lies an abyss of pain.

Eventually a man named John Bunting comes into his life as his mother’s new boyfriend. John seems to be the first person in Jamie’s life to stand up for him; John harasses the mother’s abusive ex-boyfriend, who happens to live across the street (a perpetual reminder of Jamie’s trauma) until the man moves. A scene in which John crushes severed kangaroo body parts (which he eventually throws at the ex-boyfriend’s house) is perhaps the first sign that something ugly lurks beneath the man’s friendly demeanor. Later on he invites Jamie over for dinner; in the middle of the meal, he turns to Jamie and says simply, “Do you like being fucked?” He then forces Jamie to shoot his (John’s) dog. This is the beginning of John’s total domination of Jamie, who he enlists as an accomplice in a series of murders. John tells Jamie that he is going to show the boy how to stick up for himself but what he actually does is destroy what remains of Jamie’s soul.

The obvious question is why Jamie goes along with John’s brutal actions. In one scene, Jamie sits silently in one room while in another John and his accomplice Robert viciously torture Jamie’s brother Troy. At this point, among others, Jamie could conceivably attempt to alert neighbors and/or notify the police and yet he does not. The abuse he has already suffered seems to have permanently broken his spirit; he is unable to act on his own accord when faced with the transgressions of his latest abuser. John thus enlists Jamie because, despite his rhetoric, on some level he sees the boy as the perfect accomplice, an individual over whom he can exert total control.


August 4th, 2014 / 10:00 am