Lost boy: Lucas Pittaway as Jamie in "Snowtown"
Evil, they say, is banal. We would like it to be otherwise of course, which is why in literature and the arts the devil tends to get the best tunes. Leading men always make the point in interviews that actually they'd much rather play the far more interesting villain; goodness is so boring. Filmmakers wanting to make a critical mark make much of their duty to take us to the "dark side", their assumption being that somehow we need to be forced to look further than our lives of sun-filled denial. But most people of course are very well-acquainted with darkness in one of its many shapes or forms, and they know that more often than not it is grinding, monotonous and deadening.
Film violence is balletic, vivid and (increasingly) cartoonish; a fight with flick knives at closing time is fumbled, fuzzy and over within seconds. The same goes for the other end of the spectrum of darkness: serial killers are usually modest men with much to be modest about, whereas the movies have given us Hannibal Lecter, a paragon of suave erudition and wry humour, somebody we might want to know, or even aspire to be. The adventures of Hannibal the Cannibal are among the best horror-thrillers of recent years, from the psychological warfare of The Silence of the Lambs to the misty Gothicism of its sequel Hannibal. I have watched and rewatched these movies, and admired them anew and laughed again. But what I'm not looking for in them is anything approximating the truth.
The reality of course is Jeffrey Dahmer, Dennis Nilsen, Fred and Rose West — small, dreary people inhabiting pokey places. Another name to add to this list is John Bunting. It's probable that, like me, you haven't heard of him, but in the 1990s he emerged as Australia's most notorious serial killer, and the story of his murders has now made it to the screen in Snowtown (the name of the backwater where most of the bodies of his 11 victims were found). On the face of it, Bunting was as ordinary as they come. He fitted completely into the context in which he carried out his crimes — which is to say working class, indeed underclass — suburban Australia. Perhaps the only thing which separates him from the roll call above is that he seems to have had a twisted motive which did not solely derive from his need to kill, as it were, for company, but which came from his hatred of paedophiles and gays, or at least those he decided to label as such.
Director Justin Kurzel has made a film which is about as far away from most mainstream treatments of this kind of subject as it's possible to be. It centres on the relationship between an insipid, lost teenager Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) and Bunting, who arrives seemingly out of nowhere before successfully ingratiating himself with the lumpen, semi-destitute circle which makes up Jamie's network of friends and family. Bunting (played by Daniel Henshall) becomes a father figure for the boy, gradually drawing him in until Jamie ends up a full accomplice in his campaign of hatred and personalised punishment.