"One has to go back a long way, to Rowan Woods's The Boys (1998) or John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer (1986), to find a crime drama as intense, disturbing and unresolved as Australian director Justin Kurzel's film about the infamous Bodies in the Barrels murders near Adelaide in the 1990s," begins Nigel Floyd in Time Out London. "The remorseless pacing of Shaun Grant's spare script and the pulsing drive of Jed Kurzel's electronic score draw us reluctantly but inexorably into the familial and group dynamics which acted as the catalyst for a string of killings. Yet for all its unflinching bleakness, this is a sympathetic attempt to understand how vulnerable 16-year-old Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) — from whose naive point of view the appalling events are observed — came under the malign influence of charismatic psychopath John Bunting (Daniel Henshall)."
"There's an already notorious scene in a bathtub, involving the extraction of toenails, which would send Mary Whitehouse quailing ashen-faced for the exit, if she'd even made it that far," writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph. "A better one follows: broken, wrenching Louise Harris, as the mother, lying in the very same bath wondering what's happened to her eldest son. She's one of many astonishing newcomers in this cast, whose zonked performances Kurzel wrangles with equally astonishing precision, given that this is his debut. There's no getting past how difficult Snowtown is to watch because the milieu and scenario convince so utterly: it makes 'fun' serial-killer pictures seem horrifyingly glib and removed from life. It's a film you want to turn away from but can't because the psychology's so astute, the absence of any way out for Jamie so tangible and devastating."
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw is reminded, "oddly, of Richard Fleischer's sordid history of John Christie in 10 Rillington Place – here is the killer; here is his shabby habitat, and here are his crimes. Movies like David Fincher's Zodiac, or Jaime Rosales's The Hours of the Day, or Shohei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine demystified the killer's macabre criminal career in their various ways; what Snowtown does is create a social-realist horror story showing the killer as parodic paterfamilias. It shows how the activity of murder can be normalized and entrenched within everyday life, how it can be made an adjunct of an abusive relationship and how the murderer has a genius for persuading the community to act both as victims and accomplices."
"Harrowing doesn’t quite cover it," advises Paul Weedon at Little White Lies.
"It comes to something when you start bargaining silently with the film, asking whether we can't just go back to the child abuse," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. What's gotten to him in particular is "the simple shot of John and Jamie watching a man with learning disabilities in a playground. 'Will anyone miss him?' asks John. I like to think I will forget that line one day but the chances don't look good…. These people don't matter to one another or to anyone else: none of them, not just the man in the playground, will be missed. John is continuing society's work, devaluing those lives considered worthless so that his victims are dead in theory long before their bodies are cold. Snowtown is a film as conscientious as it is disturbing but if you are considering seeing it, it's worth recalling some advice from Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road: 'The things you put into your head are there forever… You might want to think about that.'"
Earlier: The first round of reviews from Cannes when Snowtown screened in Critics' Week. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.