Killing Ground (Movie Review)

Killing Ground (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: During a New Years getaway in the Australian woods, a couple unwittingly stumbles upon a grisly crime scene that forces their hand and alters their lives forever.

REVIEW: With five years spent toiling with the truncated form, Aussie writer/director Damien Power has lent his apposite moniker to KILLING GROUND, an assuredly potent and shiftily muscular first time feature that, by design, favors stark realism over stylized sensationalism. By setting such dark and dire story action and subject matter against the beauteous sprawl of the Australian campground outback, and by deftly crosscutting between two before-and-after timelines in a way that allows the audience to suss more info and insight than its very characters, Power taunts and toys with our expectations in a way that feels both fresh and fun, even if a bit irksome. At a brisk 85 minutes, all things considered, KILLING GROUND is a taut and tightly mounted international crime indie, a nimbly nettling nature-set nightmare!

Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) make a lively couple who are out to celebrate the New Year with some R&R in the secluded Australian woodlands. Gungilee Falls Campground is the specific place they settle upon, their first night being quite a romantic one under the stars. Thing is, when they awake, they find a neighboring tent ransacked without a person in sight. Worse, when they backtrack to their own vehicle, they find it has a mysteriously flattened tire. And if that wasn’t upsetting enough, soon Sam finds a wandering infant, dirtied and dehydrated, without a trace of whom or where its parents are. How can Ian and Sam be of any help if they’re now immobile in addition to being utterly clueless?

Thankfully, Power’s deft use of nonlinear cross-cutting allows for us, the audience, to pick up hints where the couple cannot. See, the infant belongs to another camping couple, one we slowly learn were savagely vitiated to death by a pair of psychopathic bushwhackers named Chook (Aaron Glenane) and German (Aaron Pederson). These twisted sickos even sexually violate the mother Margaret (Maya Stange) and eldest daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland) in a sequence redolent of but not nearly as graphic as LAST HOUSE THE HOUSE or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. We cut back and forth between this slow revelation and the present, where Chook duplicitously feigns helping Ian look for the lost couple. Sam stays behind with the baby, facing her own dastardly deceit when German shows up and, for a split second, too pretends to be of innocent aide. If this sounds confounding, that’s because it is a bit at first. But once you get a grasp on the rhythm of the editing and the murderous motives of the two assailants, the action of the competing and inevitably colluding timelines becomes clearer.


In opinion, it’s this very temporal tampering that, combined with the unwavering realism of the vicious violence, proves the most exciting facet of KILLING GROUND. The manner in which Power expertly slaloms back and forth between the recent past and pulse-pounding present, keeping us on edge throughout, offering scant investigative tidbits along the way, really ought to be commended here. We’re given work to do as a viewer, with very little expository bailouts to explicate what is and will happen down the line. Its story untwists they way a movie should. For a low-budget indie shot on location with only a handful of actors, this is a brilliantly conceived framing device that keeps the action eminently entertaining. And speaking of the actors, none of this would jive without the requisite credibility given by all involved, but outstandingly by Glenane as Chook. This sweaty back-alley baddie resembles Junior from LAST HOUSE, with German acting as his Krug. Together they embody terror in the most alarming form of all: human inhumanity.

Indeed, the terror in the film is mortifyingly realistic. There are no supernatural monsters, no bounding undead ghouls, no phony studio sets or cartoonish CGI, nothing like that. This is tactile, hands-on filmmaking that eschews stylistic flourishes in favor of cold, hard, horrifying verisimilitude. Much like the aforementioned movies it’s lovingly akin to, the level of disturbance is directly correlated to how believable it comes across as. For me it worked, mainly for the sinister stints of unimaginable infant endangerment, the kind we simply do not see often, and certainly not in bigger mainstream American movies. Now, A SERBIAN FILM this is not, but damn if it isn’t a distant cousin. But because the violence is exacted upon humans by the hand of another, the wounds tend to cut a little bit deeper.

While sparse, downturns in the film include some repetitive darting, loping and meandering through the woods throughout that tends to wear out its welcome by the end. This is a minor gripe though. So too is the fact that, by spending such a limited duration of time with our principals before crosscutting to the criminals, our sense of sympathy takes a while to adequately foster. Had we spent more time with Sam and Ian early on, or for longer periods than we do, more of a rooting interest might have been forged from the jump. Still, by the end, there’s enough banked pathos to not only root for the two to triumph, but actually care what happens to each of them, whether trying to survive separately or together. Other than that, for a first time feature, there isn’t a whole lot more to grouse about. In the end, KILLING GROUND is just that, a well made and played, starkly vivid destination of death!

Extra Tidbit: KILLING GROUND enters select theaters Friday, July 21st.
Source: AITH



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