VERTIGO RELEASING (2017)
Director: Damien Power
Starring: Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Aaron Pedersen, Aaron Glenane, Tiarnie Coupland
The directorial debut of Damien Power (cool name), Killing Ground, sets out to achieve what many horror/thrillers do – make something desirable suddenly very undesirable. In this instance, it’s isolated beach camping in Australia.
With all the best intentions, Ian (Meadows) and Sam (Dyer), embark on a quiet, romantic camping trip to Gungilee Falls to spend time only in each other’s company.
Don’t they know the script…?
Arriving at the beach to find another family has set up camp on the other side of the small area, the couple continues their efforts and set up camp. There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the other tent, but hey, they’ll be somewhere and safe, right? Right?
Ian and Sam are a pleasant, affable couple and on their sojourn decide to spontaneously get engaged. Picturesque beach setting? Check. Tranquility? Check. Getting engaged? Check! What could go wrong? Turns out the other family on the beach went for walk with their toddler son, Ollie, leaving their daughter Em (Coupland) alone to smoke away in peace.
In the nearby town, local undesirables German (Pedersen) and Chook (Glenane) spend their evenings harassing the attractive ladies that frequent the local bar to no success. There’s something not right with these guys, they seem the type to hunt and stalk unlucky humans who decide to camp out in isolation. Turns out they’re exactly the type and are the precise reason that Ian and Sam don’t ever see the occupants of the other tent. They’ve gone missing, and only toddler Ollie remains left to wander the woods. When our cute couple stumbles across Ollie, he’s not the only person who turns up uninvited to crash the party.
Firstly, Killing Ground is pretty savage. It twists your arms slowly before beginning to consistently gut punch you – there’s no real let up here, so if you like your movies with a lighter touch or appreciate time to breathe, Killing Ground may wear you down.
Secondly, Australian men never get a good rep in their horror movies!? Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) of Wolf Creek is a cold, sadistic bastard, similarly, Stephen Curry’s John White in Hounds of Love plays on the same nasty team. Hell, even The Babadook is a piece of work. Then again, Lola (Robin McLeavy) in The Loved Ones may be the manager of the team. They’re not like their neighbouring Kiwi rascals in Pork Pie etc.
Power directs a no-nonsense movie in Killing Ground. It’s simply shot, with a slight documentary feel at times, and that really sums the movie up well. It’s no-nonsense, to the point. These two guys feed off their hunts and take heartless pleasure in offing innocent victims – male or female, adult or child. There’s a gritty realism that hangs over the entire movie – I don’t doubt that this kind of thing sadly happens, however, the movie makes it feel very visceral and real. There’s nothing flashy about the murders that occur here, they are simply efficient and undignified – possibly the most terrifying sort. Where the movie has an authentic feel to it, there is a very thin plot through all of the violence, and Killing Ground has nothing really much to say. There’s real takes on bravery and cowardice, and in a way the movie portrays “realistic” reactions to horrific events – so is it a study of the human behaviour?
The cast handle their roles admirably, and as an audience we want them to succeed. Our victims/prey are a young couple looking for fun and a close-knit family spending quality time together – hardly the types that you’ll find yourself desperate to be butchered up. Meadows and Dyer work well together and deliver good performances.
The movie relies on its violence and dread, and in that sense, it succeeds. As mentioned, the violence isn’t OTT and overblown, gunshot wounds are authentic and blunt – there’s no exploding limbs or organs. Every punch lands with a booming thud, no need for boxing matches here. It’s all grounded, which makes it all more unsettling. When that dirty, bloodied toddler appears in the background (in a very good lingering shot in the movie) I got chills, it’s silently terrifying. Shudder.
Killing Ground isn’t a movie necessarily out to make a statement. But a statement it makes. It’s convinced me to never go camping, certainly not in Australia! (I’ll stick to the Opera House and the Bay, I think). It’s not exactly an entertaining movie, but it is a decent movie that holds your attention and keeps your fingers crossed for the good guys to make it out. It’s well shot, well-acted and well-scripted – the holy trinity – and will leave you feeling a little bruised afterwards.
Another successful, vicious Australian horror movie.
October 27th 2017