Exclusive interview with Killing Ground director Damien Power
We have been slavishly praising director Damien Power’s harrowing Australian horror thriller Killing Ground, a movie whose simple premise gives the filmmaker and his talented cast and crew a long leash to create what might be one of the most effective little chillers of the year. So healthy was the response at Sundace last year in fact, that Power was able to quit his 9-5 job and become full time what he always wanted to be: a man who makes movies.
Killing Ground tells the tale of amorous young 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. Seems being the key word. When the pair arrive at their destination, they find another tent, abandoned. And as they hunker down for the night, 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.
IFC Midnight will release Killing Ground on July 21st in theaters and VOD and we managed to lock some time with Power to discuss his horrifying little shock opera. Here then, is that interview…
ComingSoon.net: The basic story here, the subgenre of people at the mercy of murderers in the woods, has been oft-mined. Why choose this framework to build your film around?
Damien Power: Yeah, so, look, the very germ of the idea of this film was that of an orange tent, that was the image that sprang into my mind. And I started thinking about, where are the campers? What happened to them? This then suggested the antagonists and then I started thinking about who finds the tent and that’s when I started thinking about the protagonists. I wanted to tell a story of all the events that happened in that place. So from the very beginning, I started writing it in a non-linear way, thinking that as the best way to do it. We’ve all heard stories and seen movies where people go to the woods and bad things happen, so you have to bring something new to the table and for me, part of that was the non-linear opening, because these films are usually relentlessly linear. And the other thing I did was try to make it as real as possible and for me that’s not only in the treatment of the story, but of the decisions the characters make.
CS: Your fellow countryman, director Greg McLean, by the second Wolf Creek film, he let it lapse into a cartoon and I’m glad you didn’t do that here…
Power: That’s true and that was important and particularly true with the antagonists. I wanted them to be plausible characters. These are guys we might see at a bar. We might not talk to them, though (laughs).
CS: I’m tempted to say that the movie is a slow burn, but I never found it slow, rather you take your time getting to know everyone in the film…even the villains, who are uniquely human…
Power: Well, yeah and that was important for me that the actors find that humanity in the characters too. I think that part of the reason the film affects people so much is that they care. The campers aren’t faceless victims. We understand who they are. And we do get that insight into the antagonists before we truly understand who they are.
CS: Right, and what that does is that because you’ve let us get to know these guys, we’re really hoping they’re not capable of the transgressions they do in fact commit…
Power: Yeah, totally.
CS: Was that non-linear storytelling device present in the original script or did some of it evolve in the edit?
Power: At the end of the day, the finished film is pretty faithful to my script. I wrote it in that non-linear way. I didn’t write the timelines separately and merge them, I wrote the script with each event bouncing off the other.
CS: Ozploitation cinema is known for being gonzo and just plain weird. I’ve always loved it. But is this the kind of cinema you grew up on?
Power: I didn’t see a lot of those films in that classic wave of Ozploitation movies from the ’70s because I was probably too young at the time to watch them. I grew up in a small town in Tasmania, I think there’s maybe 60,000 people. There was one cinema. I saw the first Star Wars in that cinema. I saw The Terminator in that cinema twice. And then I joined the film society with my grandfather, so we were watching early Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch and movies like Withnail and I. So I was always interested in all film. The first horror film I saw that had an impact on me, however, I remember that there was a local channel that would show all night horror movie marathons on Friday the 13th and I snuck out of bed to watch Halloween. I was so scared I had to have the radio on while I watched it.
CS: And sneaking out of bed adds another dimension of breaking the rules that made it even scarier. Did you grandfather like these kinds of movies?
Power: (laughs) No…no. He was a very conservative guy. I remember watching Withnail and I with him and I didn’t understand half of that film, but I could tell that he disapproved of it, so I though that it MUST be pretty good (laughs)!