“Killing Ground” is a horror film by Tasmanian born writer-director Damien Power. It is a film that takes its cues from other Australian horror cinema such as Wolf Creek and the film has tones of the low budget British horror, Eden Lake.
The film focuses on Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) who are on a camping trip to a remote part of the Australian outback that holds fond memories of Ian’s youth. It’s New Years Eve and the couple is well drawn and played terrifically. The characters are easily believable and feel like a genuine couple. This is a bonus as often in horror films the characters can be lightly drawn and shallow.
When Ian and Sam arrive at the campsite, to their dismay they see that they’re not alone. A family has already set up camp and this threatens to put a damper on their trip. This is quickly put aside as Sam proposes to Ian, in a moving scene. These moments help root the film in its reality and ensure that what is about to happen to the characters packs an emotional punch.
As New Years Eve draws to a close, the family alongside them has still not shown up. This is the first typical horror trope that gets the audiences brain whirring. When we are finally introduced to them they are: Rob (Julian Garner), Margaret (Maya Stange), their 16-year-old daughter, Em (Tiarnie Coupland), and their toddler son, Ollie (played by twins Liam and Riley Parkes).
‘Killing Ground’s main trick is how it reveals the narrative in a non-linear way. This feels fresh and it allows the narrative to steamroll to its gruesome pinch points effectively. The family that has set up camp alongside Sam and Ian are shown in flashback, however this isn’t clear to begin with and only a subtle change of outfit allows the audience to cotton on to the way in which the narrative is twisting and turning.
It should be noted that the cinematography is measured and makes great use of the surrounding environment. This is evident from the opening titles; the sheer remoteness of the camping location and surrounding nature is shot with a level of realism that allows the film’s verisimilitude to be completely believable and act as both a jarring and comforting entry point for the audience.
The central villains of the piece are two friends, German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenna). They are leering, despicable men who evidently live in a way that lubricates their base, carnal desires. They are the cause of the film’s violence and although the violence is not out of the ordinary for an outback horror, the small cast offers completely engaging performances that make the violence wince inducing. The villains start off as horrible, scum of the earth characters and they are happy to skip even further down the path. This is in no way a redemption tale and at times it is utterly bleak.
“Killing Ground” is an ambitious film that makes effective use of its relatively small budget and tries to wrap an intriguing non-linear narrative around standard horror tropes. There is a throwaway line of dialogue that the campsite was once the site of a massacre of Koori people by settlers. The idea of “Killing Ground” being an allegory for white guilt is stretching its premise too far but the film does contain very interesting ideas that lift the film above standard horror fare. “Killing Ground” is a strikingly made, disturbing film.
Killing Ground is available in cinemas and on digital download Friday 29th September.