Killing Ground: Not Quite Terrifying Enough To Never Go Camping Again
Review by Aaron Haughton
Killing Ground is the feature debut from Tasmanian writer/director Damien Power, and the end product may be too disturbing for some. Power's employs a heavy does of realism to the violent acts committed in the film, which will result in one of two things: amusement or abhorrence — all depending on what you want out of your horror film experience. It falls right in line with other Aussie flicks like Wolf Creek; however, it also does very little to innovate the whole killer-lurking-in-the-seemingly-innocent-woods premise.
The film centers around Sam (played by Harriet Dyer) and Ian (played by Ian Meadows), who are on their way to a remote beach for a camping weekend getaway, and a neighboring family near their campsite. The couple never encounters the neighboring family, and begins to get concerned when they discover a lone, traumatized child in the nearby woods. When they run in with a a few local creeps, they couple's quaint camping getaway turns into a very real nightmare.
Power's attempt at innovating a story we've seen before is exclusive to the narrative structure, and it's enough to pull you along through a story littered with cookie-cutter characters with no personality, until the timeline breaks back to linear. At that point, the film gets painfully dull. The big problem with Power's time-scrambled structure is that it becomes instantly obvious (in that our main couple NEVER interacts with the family), and it strips away any suspense, tension or mystery. You can ascertain what happens to the family simply because they're never present in the couple's timeline. So, any build up with the family is just spent lying in wait for their untimely demise, which is pitch-black and very hard to stomach, let alone find enjoyment in.
Furthermore, Power's chooses to include several scenes with the local killers outside of the events with the family and the couple. So, we as the viewer know what they look like and what they're about but never really why they do what they do, which is the more interesting exploration if you're gonna take that narrative route. They're easily identified and labeled as a "baddie" right away, well before they ever encounter our main characters, leaving no real pieces for the audience to put together. The film would also be a little more interesting (though, admittedly, not much) if the killers were more complex individuals. Instead, they're very black-and-white, run of the mill yocals who enjoy some murder and rape on occasion. Their behavior and why they do what they do is never explained, so why is it necessary from a narrative standpoint to even show scenes with them outside of the atrocities they commit in the woods? Answer: there really isn't.
Another major issue is that nothing exciting, interesting, or violent happens until our main couple meet the hunters, which hits around the 40 minute mark of a 80-some minute film. To make those 40 minutes more excruciating, Power fill his film with very flat and forgettable characters. If you don't care about the characters, you won't care about what happens to them throughout the film. Having no connection or interest in the film's central characters reduces the violence down to an almost cartoonish level, which is ironic given Power's realistic approach to the film.
Putting it nicely, there are many opportunities for improvement here, all of which seems to boil down to the script. I think that if Power wanted his film to be narratively disjointed and showcase scenes with the killers outside of context that there really should've been some kinda bigger twist, something akin to From Dusk Till Dawn. If for instance, we're under the impression that the hunters are the bad guys, but then it turns out there's another evil lurking in the woods that threatens the couple, the family, and the killers, THEN there may be some element of surprise. Everything can be seen miles down the road, and in the off chance that you are caught off guard, you're not emotionally vested enough to really have your hair blown back.
The realism approach makes the violence land with a more wincing blow, but doesn't benefit any other aspects of the film. It actually prevents the film from dipping its toe into horror staples, such as cheesy camp or schlock, which an unoriginal story such as this would greatly benefit from. I'm also not sure if the realism concept bleed into the cinematography, but the scenes toward the end of the film that take place at night are way too dark — in some cases I audibly uttered, "What am I looking at here?!" And, to add insult to injury, the film comes to an abrupt and grinding halt, leaving you wholly unfulfilled.
At the end of the day, it's so lacking in originality that it's hard to believe that anyone believed in the film enough to finance it — after all, it's a film with small ambition with its sights aimed just as low. Killing Ground isn't designed to be loved by all, but if camping-gone-wrong horror is your bag, there may be a good time to be had. However, I personally think the film's missteps are too large to really forgive or garner much enjoyment. The story is very unoriginal and the execution is half baked, but hearing an Aussie say "dickhead" is almost worth it. Those interested in checking out the film can do so on Netflix.
What did you think of the film? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!