Killing Ground Review: Ruthless Australian horror movie is a tight, taut and well-directed tread on familiar turf
The set up for director Damien Power’s harrowing Australian horror thriller Killing Ground is as generic as its title, with a loving and innocent young couple driving to the remote wilderness to camp on an isolated waterfront on New Years Eve. Of course, as this is a horror movie blessed with such a title, we are well aware that more than sex, fishing and cuddling will ensue. It’s a familiar genre flick set up. Put nice people alone in the woods and the monsters come, both human and otherwise and sometimes a bit of both combined. But as we often say, it’s the teller not the tale and Power uses the tried and true survival horror framework to build a tight, ingeniously-constructed, brutal but not depressing shocker that delivers smashingly.
The film starts with that lovely couple, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows), driving to their destination through the backwoods of Tasmania, talking about their lives and their future, stopping only for directions from a gruff local who seems helpful but… yeah, you know where this is going. Or do you? When the pair arrive at their destination, they find another tent, abandoned. And as they hunker down for the night , another parallel tale unfolds, that of a family – mother, father, infant son and daughter, who are also camping in a remote part or the same location. But as the cross-cut stories intersect, we soon learn that these tales are not happening at the same time at all… but both are linked by the presence of drooling, sniggering miscreant thrill killers German and Chook and their monstrous dog. As Sam and Ian begin the realize that things are not so idyllic, violence explodes, tables are turned, then turned and turned again and Power thrusts the viewer into a protracted climax that’s just as savage as the final reel of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
What gives Killing Ground its edge — and defies it lapsing into Ozploitation torture-toons like the Wolf Creek films — is its solid cast and beautifully penned characters and Power’s screenplay, which gives those characters plenty of space to develop. This includes the sickening German and Chook who aren’t just nameless, faceless hicks but are bored, sociopathic scumbags with their own troubles and bizarre, toxic dynamic. Power takes his time with these people so when they all collide violently during that last half hour, we are fully completely invested, emotionally and viscerally. When people die — and they do, violently — we feel it. It hurts. He also pays attention to the edit (the film is cut by Katie Flaxman), with the three stories cross-cut with an accelerating pace, leaving the viewer on the edged of their seat when in reality, very little unsettling is even happening. Such is the mark of a true storyteller, a true filmmaker and craftsman.
Killing Ground will hit you hard. It’s rough, tragic, intense and open-ended, without a clear line to a resolution. It’s a beautifully-made film about very ugly people damaging very good people for no purpose at all save for the fact that they think they can. Look for it, but don’t expect to emerge from it whistling a happy tune.
Killing Ground will open theatrically and on VOD on July 21st from IFC Midnight.