Killing Ground, 2017.
Directed by Damien Power.
Starring Aaron Pederson, Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Aaron Glenane, and Tiarnie Coupland.
Arriving at a secluded beach in the Outback for a New Year’s camping holiday, a young couple discover another tent, but no sign of the occupants. When nobody shows up, the couple start to become apprehensive. Until they discover somebody wandering in the woods.
Ever since John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), it’s been a cinematic tradition that city dwellers venturing into the wilds rarely come to any good. That, coupled with a real spoiler-fest of a title, means that you more or less know what you’re in for before Damien Power’s Killing Ground gets off the ground.
Not that Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) are there to battle the elements. All they want is a few days’ peaceful camping and that’s pretty much all we know about them, apart from the fact that he’s a doctor and they’ve decided to get married. But, for his first feature film, Power has also written the screenplay, giving it a non-linear structure, flitting back and forth between storylines. It’s a structure which is far more effective at getting our interest than the characters. In the present, the focus is on the young couple, but the past depicts what happened to the occupants of the other tent. The third one links the two by means of a pair of local bad boys and, as the gaps are steadily filled in, the tension starts to rise.
Without that sense of involvement with the couple and, indeed, the occupants of the other tent – a family with a toddler – it doesn’t build as effectively as it should. We’re not told too much either about the two men, German (Aaron Pederson) and Chook (Aaron Glenane): the local cop knows them far too well, German has been in prison and Chook’s behaviour with women is, shall we say, inappropriate. So when things turn nasty in the second half of the film for both the couple and the family, it’s hard to share in their anguish and equally difficult to feel more than revulsion for the two locals.
While the narrative structure helps maintain our interest for two-thirds of the film, the film loses its way completely in the last section, descending into mindless and brutal violence. Rape has obviously taken place, there’s physical and mental torture and the distinct impression that the violence is there simply for the sake of it, and not to contribute to the story.
That’s not say that Killing Ground is an especially bad film. Its big plus, its narrative, effectively plays with the audience, while the natural sounds of the Outback – cracking twigs, animal noises – are unnerving to the point of sinister. But Power lets himself, and his film, down by overdoing the violence and, ultimately, the audience is close to being lost.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★