Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Damien Power
Writer: Damien Power
Producer: Joe Weatherstone, Lisa Shaunessy
Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Tiarnie Coupland, Liam Parkes, Riley Parkes, Aaron Glenane
Two separate camping trips unexpectedly intersect when both parties are beset by a pair of sadistic hunters.
Ian and Sam expected a quiet New Year’s Eve alone when they arrived at Gungilee Falls. The Baker Family, consisting of two parents, a teenager, and a toddler, expected similarly serene seclusion during a camping trip of their own three days earlier.
What neither party could have anticipated was ex-con “German” and his psycho sidekick “Chook” intruding on their outdoor excursions with hunting rifles and evil urges, which in turn tipped over domino lines of depravity and danger. The young couple and the family foursome now find their separate stories inextricably intertwined. Their common link is two men forcing everyone involved to face the worst fears imaginable for anyone caught in the wilderness with little hope of escape.
The thriller genre certainly isn’t short on concepts where backwoods crazies turn an outdoor trip into a test of survival skills for unsuspecting campers/hikers. With two feature films and a TV series devoted to “Wolf Creek” (review here) alone, Australia in particular has a corner on that market when it comes to such fight-for-your-life suspense set against remote rocks and trees.
This means Aussie film “Killing Ground” has its work cut out for it to come up with a way to get a leg up in the crowded category. Writer/director Damien Power takes a novel approach to do exactly that. He combines past and present parallel plots into one narrative where two ill-fated holidays end up terrorized by the same pair of irredeemable sociopaths.
During the first act, clues come together quickly that not everything is occurring concurrently. Less clear is exactly when the two storylines will intersect and how that shared dot will affect both outcomes. The great effect “Killing Ground” achieves from this conceit is the simultaneous suspense of wondering what will happen as well as what already did.
Creativity comes with a caveat, however. In selecting breaking points to pause one thread before bouncing back to the other, “Killing Ground” sacrifices a synched rhythm.
For instance, one sequence cuts from past to present simply to interject a quick clip of a car pulling up to a particular location. Cut back to the past for several minutes and then back to the driver exiting the car in the other timeline. “Killing Ground” wants you hanging on a cliff of questioning what the current confrontation will look like, but does so at the expense of mistimed editing that disrupts the tempo. The story would lose a fair deal of its uniqueness if it were told chronologically, though there is a way to sequence these scenes differently that would result in a smoother flow.
Another card carried in the film’s pocket is strong characterization of its antagonists. German and Chook aren’t interchangeable villains snarling sadistically like typical movie madmen. Damien Power writes them to have true personalities instead of merely fulfilling a function of facilitating conflict. “Killing Ground” forces us to spend significant time in their uncomfortable company. Actors Aaron Pederson and Aaron Glenane provide the finishing touches that ground these two predators in frighteningly real moral and mental dysfunction.
“Killing Ground” has a raw, brutal feel, much of which comes from unsettling atmosphere since visceral visuals are more suggestive than they are graphic. An awful sexual assault occurs offscreen in between other moments. A disturbing attack on a child is obscured by foreground foliage. “Killing Ground” is violent, yet not confrontational about its presentation, allowing you to be shocked without having the horrors thrust directly into your eyes.
Should you be at the understandable end of your tolerance rope for this kind of fare, taking a pass would be a sensible course of action, as this isn’t the entry that will win your favor for the subgenre. “Killing Ground” is still one of the better “killer in the woods terrorizes campers” survival movies, in large part because it isn’t just a setup. There is a legitimate story. It isn’t told in the most consistent fashion, but it has enough power in its performances to stay sharp as a thriller.
Review Score: 70