If you’re going to recruit a loyal lieutenant to help you butcher and murder society’s oddballs and strays then 16-year-old Jamie Vlassakis is the ideal candidate.
Living with dysfunctional siblings and slatternly single mother in a cinderblock housing trust shack on an Adelaide sink estate, he and his three brothers are targeted by a paedophile neighbour.
Although his mother – after being tipped off – turns on the unabashed abuser he’s released from police custody without charge and returns to his house just across the road.
Enter John (Henshall), an avuncular charmer with the look of a young John Peel and an appealingly easy manner with the kids.
Soon his boots are firmly under the Vlassaki kitchen table and he’s giving mom the glad eye.
Taking a particular shine to Jamie (Pittaway), John teaches him how to ride a motorbike and – a little more worryingly – encourages him to tip a pail of kangaroo innards onto the paedo’s porch. Oh, and shoot dead his own pet dog.
It turns out that John has got a very strict moral code. He doesn’t like gays (they’re all kiddyfiddlers), loathes druggies and despairs in a system that prevents a neighbour getting a teaching post because of a little thing like a criminal record.
Relying on information provided by a local transvestite (imagine Bernie Ecclestone in drag), he compiles a hitlist of dubious characters ripe for his particular brand of reactionary justice. And then starts to kill them, happily implicating Jamie along the way.
Based on the true Australian “bodies in barrels” case, this is an unflinchingly livid chronicle of a killer in the style of an Oz Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
The acting is uniformly superb, faultlessly rendering a self-righteously bigoted trailer trash community where a psychopath like John is not only able to exist but flourish unhindered by the authorities.
Often difficult to watch – one bathroom execution is disturbingly raw in its clinical precision – this nevertheless never glories Saw-like in its violence and the characters are terrifyingly never less than human.
Snowtown brings cold comfort.