EIFF Review – Killing Ground – UK Premiere
Director: Damien Power
Starring: Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Julian Garner, Maya Stange, Tiarne Coupland
Run Time: 88mins
A young suburban couple are on the road to go for a camping trip. They pull over for some supplies and directions as the area they are heading to is remote and the map is vague. A gruff, slightly unnerving, stranger tells them that they will have trouble accessing where they want to go but suggests an alternative spot nearby.
As a comedian might say: “Stop me if you have heard this one before…” To any horror fan this all sounds like a very familiar set up with a multitude of films starting in a similar vein. You may roll your eyes as this movie opens and think you know exactly what to expect but you would be wrong as this Aussie camping horror has more than a few surprises up its sleeve.
The film separates itself first on not relying on jump scares or excessive gore to draw the viewer in but by relying on its character. It does well to make the central couple, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) seem convincing rather than simply being horror archetypes, meaning when the peril does kick in, the viewer is more likely to be rooting for them which in some horror films, especially Slasher films, is often not the case!
They are not the only characters we follow though as we are also introduced to a family camping at the same spot. Parents Rob (Julian Garner) and Margaret (Maya Stange) along with their teenage daughter Em (Tiarne Coupland) and their baby son Ollie (who might just be the world’s most resilient baby as you will soon come to realise). Both the family and the couple end up being menaced by locals German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane). Although it is clear from the off things are emerging over two separate timelines not simultaneously.
This being an Aussie outback horror the most obvious go to reference point is Wolf Creek and there may be glancing similarities but this places itself far from the torture porn sensibilities of that movie. There are moments of nastiness here but many of the films most gut-wrenching and queasy moments of violence are implied or have already happened off-screen. The most obvious influence due to the backwoods types vs city types set-up is Deliverance which is obviously been a touchstone for the director but even here it takes its own path particularly in its final act that is more about the choices we make in the face of extreme circumstances.
What is more impressive, especially given that this is Damien Powers’ directorial feature film debut, is it would easy to fall into excess or pad out the story but instead he has delivered a tightly scripted, nerve-shredding, suspense filled horror movie in a compact 88 minutes.
Verdict: It might put you off camping in Australia anytime soon but this but this is a gut-punch of a movie that horror fans should seek out.
Words by Scott Murphy