UK Release Date: 29th September 2017
Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Damien Power
Writer: Damien Power
Starring: Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Aaron Glenane, Aaron Pedersen, Tiarnie Coupland, Maya Stange, Julian Garner
Synopsis: A couple visiting an idyllic, secluded beach are shocked when they discover another tent already camping there, and even more shocked when the family appears to have disappeared without trace.
Australia has established itself as a prime destination for grim, realistic horror in recent years. From the outback nastiness of Wolf Creek to the almost unbearably bleak true crime terror of Snowtown, it seems that you have to go Down Under in order to access the true darkness of genre cinema in 2017. Killing Ground, from debut writer-director Damien Power, is very much in the mould of its Antipodean predecessors as an intense journey into the inky blackness of its creator’s heart. It’s a film unafraid to push buttons in order to create its white-knuckle tension – although its excesses will divide some audience members.
Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) are a newly engaged couple who venture deep into the wilderness for a secluded New Year break. Along the way, they meet grizzled local German (Aaron Pedersen), who gives them directions to the idyllic beach. We also meet another couple (Maya Stange and Julian Garner), along with their teenage daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland) and infant son Ollie. However, their tent seems to be empty when Sam and Ian arrive, with a clear suggestion that German and his friend Chook (Aaron Glenane) might have something to do with their disappearance.
There’s no doubt that Damien Power has created a tough, unflinching horror movie with Killing Ground. The timeline trickery of the opening act soon gives way to a straightforward, but potent, survival tale with a seriously grim approach. It’s incredibly tense throughout, with occasional explosions of button-pushing violence, including at least one moment that’s as shocking as anything the horror genre has produced in years. It’s debatable whether the film needs its darkest moments, but they absolutely have an impact.
Power’s directorial inexperience is occasionally evident in Killing Ground, with the interwoven timelines of the beginning not always coming off the way they should. There’s a certain tension-building cleverness in the way the divide between the match cutting that consistently jolts the audience between timelines without any clear signifier, but it often muddles more than it intrigues. The film also boasts a final act that feels a little too conventional and seemingly pulls away from a crucial plot point without ever giving it the resolution it needs.
The film benefits, though, from a realistic, grubby feel and a selection of tremendous performances. Ian Meadows and Harriet Dyer are reminiscent of Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly in Eden Lake as they try to escape the hideous, but plausible, evil of Aaron Pederson and Aaron Glenane – the latter of whom brings surprising emotional depth later on. Dyer, in particular, is brilliant as both damsel in distress and in a defiant fightback, while Meadows does strong work as a character who is written with enough sophistication to acknowledge that not every man defaults to reckless heroism.
When it’s simply depicting likeable, if underdeveloped, characters in peril, Killing Ground is a gripping watch capable of provoking visceral shock and horror. It struggles with some of Power’s storytelling flourishes and isn’t entirely satisfying as it draws to a conclusion but, in its set piece moments, it’s a stripped-down work of pure tension that deserves its spot in the midst of the current trend for outrageously tough horror movies coming out of Australia.
Pop or Poop?
Damien Power has delivered an unflinching directorial debut that’s a rough watch, but one that provides hard-edged tension in almost every scene. It’s also a film that never neglects its characters, sketching them in a way that’s thin, but gives the audience just enough to hang on to when the shit hits the fan.
It has one moment that elicited a genuine gasp of shock and terror and several horrific set pieces, but it culminates a little too easily given the bleak realism with which its story is presented.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Killing Ground is available on digital download and in select cinemas now.