Nitram (2022)

Director: Justin Kurzel

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, Sean Keenan

Tasmania, 1979. A television interview shows a boy admitted into the burns unit for playing with fireworks. Despite saying he learned a lesson, this doesn't stop him from continuing to play with fireworks. This dangerous attitude will inform him as an adult known as Nitram (Caleb Landry Jones), living with his parents and frustrated at not fitting in with others. This loneliness sends Nitram spiralling down a dark path, building towards disaster.

A dramatization of the events leading up to the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, the worst massacre in Australia's history which left a lasting mark on the country and introduced strict gun laws. The film was condemned in Tasmania, an understandable reaction by those who've lived in the aftermath of such horror and don't want to see such tragedy potentially trivialised for the sake of a film.

What screenwriter Shaun Grant and director Justin Kurzel have crafted is an intimate character study which refuses to deliver crass sensationalism, or even give attention to the perpetrator by naming him. The horrifying actions are left up to audiences' imaginations, cutting away from the violence while leaving the unbearable build-up and horrifying foreboding to layer the film in stomach-churning tension. On top of that is the effective use of sound design, as everyday noises are used in uncomfortable ways, while the restrained storytelling is punctuated with shocking bursts.

Central to this is Caleb Landry Jones' mesmerising performance, capturing an isolated young man longing for connections whose frustrations keep building as he repeatedly gets shut-out. He's at odds with his mother, magnificently played by Judy Davis, despite his father (Anthony LaPaglia) trying to keep the peace. Such intensity and vulnerability are poured into depicting this isolated young man, without the film being too sympathetic to him.

The most horrifying moment the film delivers is set within a gun store, as the failings are laid bare to show how easily Nitram managed to live out his darkest fantasies. While Kurzel and Grant have approached this horror with a sensitive touch, the final result is another harrowing film that's difficult to watch.

Nitram is available in cinemas now