Are US cinemagoers prepared to embrace Snowtown, the brutal, confronting saga of the South Australian serial killings?
We'll soon find out as the film, retitled The Snowtown Murders, is set to premiere in New York on March 2, followed by a national roll-out.
“I'm nervous about US audiences seeing it for the first time,” director Justin Kurzel told SBS Film shortly before he flew to New York for two weeks to promote his movie.
“Like it or not, the film has been really divisive and confronting when it's played internationally. I've seen every single critique, from those who hated it to those who loved it. But I'm confident US audiences will embrace it in some way.”
Kurzel can take heart from the responses of US reviewers who caught the film during Critics' Week at the Cannes festival last year, where it won the special jury prize, and its extraordinarily high 93 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Following in the footsteps of Animal Kingdom, Snowtown is an excellent counterpart worth experiencing if you also enjoyed that Aussie crime drama,” declared First Showing. Net's Alex Billington. “Just don't expect to leave the theatre with a smile on your face or any happy thoughts.”
Distributor IFC Films, which snapped up the North American rights in Cannes, kicked off the marketing campaign last week by posting on iTunes a hard-hitting trailer.
Kurzel says the US trailer is similar to the one used in Australia but has a stronger emphasis on the narrative, which makes sense as the Yanks aren't aware of the infamous bodies-in-the barrel case in the 1990s.
The trailer pulls no punches, featuring quotes pulled from reviews including “profoundly disturbing” and “presents a world of moral nightmare, and sits us inside it, to feel the pulse and the processes of evil as if they were our own.”
Similarly the director is happy with the new title for the US release, which gives the film a clearer context, and he points out in France it was also rechristened, translated as The Crimes of Snowtown.
As a primer for the US launch, the film screened last Friday and Sunday at New York's Lincoln Centre as part of Film Comment Selects, an annual festival of new works from the fest circuit along with revivals and overlooked movies run by Film Comment, the magazine published by the Film Society of Lincoln Centre.
Previewing the event, the influential New York Times' critic A. O. Scott described Snowtown as “jarringly violent and genuinely disturbing.”
The film, which stars Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway and Louise Harris, also will available on-demand at IFC Midnight, an electronic film festival that offers each month six titles that premiered at major international fests.
The director acknowledges it feels “quite strange” to revisit the film after focussing on writing with his brother Jed a screenplay entitled Ivan Lendl Never Learnt to Volley, a dark comedy about a Russian father who is fiercely determined to train his 13-year-old son to become a tennis champion like the boy's hero Lendl.
He plans to write another draft with Jed and is looking to start on another project this year, sifting through US and UK scripts sent to him by his US agent CAA.
Fortuitously the material he's been offered covers a broad range of styles as he notes, “I don't feel I've been typecast into a horror or genre box.”