Killing Ground

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Australia | 2016 | Directed by Damien Power

Logline: A family camping in a remote location are terrorised by two locals who have already committed a horrific crime and are intent on doing more.

There must be something in the Aussie water that compels local horror filmmakers to paint the country red with the blood of victims slain by redneck serial killers, especially in the last ten years or so; The Loved Ones, Snowtown, Dying Breed, 100 Bloody Acres, Charlie’s Farm, and, of course, the most infamous, Wolf Creek, to name a few. Here’s the latest, the feature debut from writer/director Damien Power, who does nothing further for the Australian tourism board, just like Greg Mclean and the others. Of course, one could argue that Aussie horror movies about deadly critters have been just as prevalent; Long Weekend, Razorback, Black Water, Rogue, The Reef, to scatter a few more, but I digress. There seems to be a real fascination with the psycho Ocker from out west. 

Harriet (Sam) and her boyfriend Ian (Ian Meadows) are looking for a quiet spot to pitch tent and see the New Year in. Whilst stopping for supplies Ian asks for directions from a grubby local, German (Aaron Pederson), who recommends a more remote location nearby. Soon enough they’re enjoying the tranquility of a bush land watering hole. Another tent has been pitched at the other end of the billabong, but the owners are curiously absent.

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Soon enough the missing owners’ whereabouts will be revealed, as Power begins to thread back and forth with two narrative timelines; that of Harriet and Sam encountering German and his dim-witted mate Chook (Aaron Glenane), and that of a family who arrived shortly after Xmas; Rob (Julian Garner), his wife Margaret (Maya Stange), and their teenaged daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland), and toddler son Ollie, who happen to have encountered the same two locals.

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The two timelines collide at the titular spread deeper into the bush from the camping spot when Chook leads Ian to where he thinks the family have trekked to, and the reveal of what happened is brutal and confronting, even though the audience is only privy to the latter end of it.

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Killing Ground is well-made on the technical front, but I have many issues with the scripting, and the performances are okay, with Harriet Dyer and Aaron Pedersen being a cut above the rest. The movie might impress those who don’t usually stray into such territory, but for True Believers it never manages to be as remarkable or memorable as it wants to be, or even thinks it is.

The non-linear dual narrative feels like a decision made late in the editing stages. Maybe it was written in from the beginning, but it comes across as a gimmick. I certainly didn’t believe German and Chook would leave the scene of their crime they way they were intending to, with their DNA covering everything, or maybe they really were as thick as thieves. They’re not especially menacing either.

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But I have a bunch of bees in my bonnet. Why spend so much time trying to invest empathy with the first family – especially the daughter – when their ordeal and demise is executed (pardon the pun) in such an off-hand and, ultimately, removed way. And what’s with the early scene in the toilets with the cop, other than to provide a red herring later on? That kind of thing annoys me. 

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Now, horror movies that are aiming for realism need to make sure the violence that appears on-screen be as realistic as possible, which means a close-range rifle shot to the head would be extremely destructive, not just knock the victim's head to one side. Hey, I’m not nitpicking; this kind of negligence scuttles a horror movie for me. 

I have more issues, such as the dog leaving its owner’s side, and that lame ending, but I’m gonna leave it at that. Killing Ground is brutal, but in a half-arsed way, it's not very convincing, and it’s certainly not scary. It’s no Wolf’s Creek