KILLING GROUND. Starring: Aaron Pederson, Aaron Glenane, Ian Meadows, Harriet Dyer, Tiarnie Coupland, and Maya Stange. Directed by Damien Power. Rated MA+15 (Strong themes, violence and coarse language). 85 min.
This Australian horror film tells the story of a to-be-married couple, who go camping in the woods for a quiet time, and find that terror stalks them. The film was shot in bushland near Sydney.
Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows), a young doctor, decide to celebrate the New Year by camping in their favourite camping ground. At the site, they see that a tent has already been struck. They strike their tent and spend the night in it, but when they awake next morning they observe that the other tent has been ransacked. When nobody returns to the tent, they become worried and concern escalates when they find that their car has a flat tyre. A short time later, Sam finds a scared baby toddler wandering in the woods, looking for her lost parents. Both Sam and Ian realise that something is terribly wrong.
The plot line operates at several levels, and it is horrific. The child belongs to a couple that were savagely murdered by two psychopaths, named Chook (Aaron Glenane), a sullen ex-convict, and German (Aaron Pederson), his simple-minded friend, who has a vicious attack-dog. The child’s mother, Margaret (Maya Stange) and Margaret’s daughter, Em (Tiarnie Coupland) have been sexually violated, and all of the ransacked tent’s occupants, except the child, have been brutally murdered.
Chook appears on the scene and goes with Ian to look for the lost couple in the woods. Sam stays behind with the child, when German drives up. Events follow, which gruesomely lead to the film’s climax. In this film, seeming innocence morphs quickly into action that kills.
The film switches constantly from the present (looking for a lost couple) to the past (a couple and their daughter are about to be killed, or already have been killed). Within the horror genre, the alternating strategy gives the film strong dramatic force. Damien Power, the film’s Director, moves the viewer across multiple frames of time-reference to maintain the tension: what might happen, could have already happened; and events look simultaneous, when they are not. Tension is additionally reinforced by the spontaneity created by fluid, hand-held camera work.
This film avoids the kind of artifice that often characterises horror movies. There are no sudden attempts to shock; and nothing jumps out of the shadows. In this movie, horrific events develop naturally, in a disturbingly realistic way.
As a side comment, Aaron Pederson, who plays German in this film, is the indigenous actor who starred in “Goldstone” (2016) and “Mystery Road” (2013) which are two of the best Australian movies directed and produced of late. In this film, Pederson acts amazingly against type.
This movie is especially chilling, because the violence is routine. There is relatively little blood and gore. Evil intent effortlessly achieves its purpose, and three different outlooks on events are interweaved to make the film a grim and effective horror movie: we see a couple looking for a quiet time, that is not possible; a family in desperate peril can't escape; and two psychopaths pursue their victims to kill them. Chook goes “hunting….to make the most of the opportunity”, and both German and Chook are viciously sadistic. This is a movie that tries to satisfy the demands of the horror genre without providing a great deal of explanation, but the three scenarios keep alternating to sustain the film’s momentum.
The film is a compelling example of the horror genre, and fits the genre well. But viewers be warned. This is an unnerving movie that gives horror films their name, and it depicts a dark journey into a cruel world. Victims are chosen, fight back, and die, and the film’s title makes sure, despite a final gruesome twist, that the outcome (killing) is never in doubt.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Films and Broadcasting
Released August 24th., 2017