Australians have been producing quality horror films for some time now, whether you look at the films of yester-year with the likes of Long Weekend, or Turkey Shoot, to more modern scares with The Babadook, Wyrmwood, The Tunnel, or Wolf Creek.
There’s a range of psychological emotions that come with each of the afore-mentioned movies with one thing in common…the ability to heighten your senses by scaring and entertaining you.
It’s part of the reason that as a film lover, (and to isolate that down further) a fan of the horror genre, that I’m proud of the quality movies that are being produced on this Southern land that I call home.
And it’s also why I’m a huge campaigner of the films that are being produced here in Australia.
So with eagle eyes, I’ve noticed a recent ripple in the genre on our homes soil, with the much-touted Killing Ground.
Directed by Damien Power, who has been turning heads with his short features for the past few years, most notably with Peekaboo, and A Burning Thing, which starred Nashville’s Clare Bowen.
Killing Ground would be Power’s feature length debut and it certainly packs a punch.
Utilising two of Australia’s strong identity components in the bush land and the sun.
Firstly, I’d like to look at the first element…the bush.
Australia is notorious for its ever-rolling landscape, with is a strange mix of the wild and beautiful thrust together in co-existence.
It’s an area that has been explored before with the afore-mentioned Wolf Creek, where director Greg McLean highlights the fear within Australia’s red centre.
With Killing Ground, Power takes that same initiative, but thrust the viewer into the bush land, centring on a couple, choosing a romantic getaway at an isolated spot known for its walks among the fauna.
All gets flipped over though when said couple, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) unwittingly stumble on a crime scene and have to resort to their wits in order to survive.
Meadows is fast crafting a name for himself in the genre following the Cairnes brothers movie, Scare Campaign, and carves a decent performance in Killing Ground as Ian, a doctor by trade, but when push comes to shove, becomes indecisive and ultimately only thinks of himself. It feels like a natural response coming from this character and tears down the walls of predictability with Ian’s reactions or lack thereof highlighting his plight.
Equally, Harriet Dyer’s journey of Sam bends a strong character arc that shines brightly by the films conclusion and is enjoyable as a result.
In order for the film to be successful though it does hinge on the antagonists to be brutal, savage, and fearful.
And this maybe my only criticism of the piece, from what is essentially a well crafted film.
The highlight, hands down, is Aaron Pedersen’s portrayal of German. The menace and savagery that he brings to the table is haunting and Pederson delivers a character that is embedded in dark mind that can be turned on and off with horrifying ease. He was a delight to watch and it was a shame to see his comeuppance come so swiftly, when it does arise. (Although, again it feels like a realistic moment when it does occur).
As a result though, the film relies on the unhinged Chook (Aaron Glenane) to carry out the proceedings of hunting down our protagonists, and unfortunately this is where I feel it falls flat.
Chook is unbalanced, and clearly motivated by his sexual appetite, his character never feels threatening enough. Yes, he’s a crack shot with the rifle and that’s plenty to be fearful of, but he’s bumbling approach to life, dampens the threat a little.
It’s a shame as it feels like so much attention was focused on the other characters that with a bit more work on this would have made for an excellent climax.
Speaking of which, the ending to the movie feels like it takes a bit of a stretch, and maybe because I had high hopes, I was left wanting.
Yes there is a resolution and one that does satisfy with our central character’s journey, but that satisfaction is left a little empty as the threat level diminishes.
I say all this, but it negates the films strong points. It’s a well-crafted slow burner of a thriller that propels you along with its split timeline narrative and allows the horror to be drawn out in a compelling way.
Damien Power certainly has a gift for spinning a thrilling yarn both as director and writer of Killing Ground, and this effort is definitely one to be proud of.
I look forward to seeing where his talents take him next.
– Paul Farrell