KILLING GROUND

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Damien Power

Stars: Aaron Pederson, Ian Meadows, Harriet Dyer, Aaron Glenane, Julian Garner, Maya Stange, Tiarnie Coupland.

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Just when you thought it was safe to venture back into the woods along comes this nifty thriller in which a weekend camping trip to the beach turns into a battle for survival. This taut thriller is the debut feature film for from Australian writer/director Damien Power, a short film maker whose Peekaboo screened at the St Kilda Film Festival a couple of years ago. The use of the bucolic outback setting to add tension and menace will remind audiences of Wolf Creek, another chilling local thriller, as well as the classic survival thrillers of the 70s, like Deliverance, Lost Weekend, etc, and even the Michael Fassbender thriller Eden Lake.

Ian (Ian Meadows) and Samantha (Harriet Dyer) head off for a New Year’s Eve camping trip to the picturesque Gungilee Falls area in the hopes that the time together away from the city will allow them time to heal their relationship. Along the way they stop at a small town for some supplies and cross paths with a couple of locals. When they arrive at the remote camping ground Ian and Sam find another tent erected, but it looks abandoned. Then Ian and Sam stumble across an abandoned child and discover a murder scene.

Through a series of flashbacks we learn the fate of another couple – Rob (Julian Garner), Margaret (Maya Stange), their troubled 16-year-old daughter, Em (Tiarnie Coupland), and their toddler son, Ollie (played by twins Liam and Riley Parkes). Ian and Sam then become hunted by a pair of local psychopaths in German (Aaron Pedersen, cast against type) and Chook (Aaron Glenane), who are keen to cover up evidence of their crimes.

Killing Ground is an accomplished thriller and genre piece for the most part. The initial inspiration for the film came from a vision Power had of an orange tent in the middle of nowhere, but it has taken him a decade to flesh out the concept and bring it to the screen. Power cites films like Straw Dogs and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games as influences on this disturbing film that explores the human capacity for violence. However, this is not quite as compelling nor as unsettling as those classics with its depiction of violence. Nonetheless the slowly escalating violence is quite confronting, visceral and chilling and Power is unflinching in his approach to the material. There is a nasty edge to the film that ensures that Killing Ground is not for the faint hearted. Its violent undercurrents will also evoke memories of the chilling Snowtown.

Power brings some tension to the frantic chase through the bushland. He uses a nonlinear narrative style that moves back and forth in the early part of the film, slowly revealing the fate of the first family, which adds a frisson of tension to the material. The dual time frames establish a growing sense of dread. The subtle revelation that the camping site was once the location of a massacre of the Koori people by settlers brings in themes of white guilt and our blood-soaked history.

The film has been nicely shot on location at Macquarie Fields, outside of Sydney, by Simon Chapman (The Devil’s Candy, etc) who uses the widescreen to good effect. The forest itself and the forbidding landscape become a character in the film and add to the gradual sense of unease that permeates the material. Chapman also uses natural lighting at times, although this works to the detriment of some scenes, as well as shaky hand-held cameras to add a sense of energy to the chase scenes.

The performances from the main cast are strong and compelling. Cast against type Pedersen is quite menacing here and brings a suitably malicious edge to his German. Glenane (Deadline Gallipoli, etc) is quite scary as Chook, the small-town psychopath and adds nuances to his performance that makes him more than a one-dimensional villain. Dyer is better known for her comedy work, but she brings an intense quality to her performance here.

Killing Ground is an auspicious debut for Power and it stamps him as a filmmaker to watch.

★★★

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