Killing Ground is hard to watch.
This taut and harrowing survival thriller is Tasmanian-born, writer-director Damien Power’s debut film.
The premise is simple: urbanites Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) take a camping trip for New Years; arriving at their remote destination they discover, to their disappointment, another tent already set up; but the owners of this tent are nowhere to be seen and when Sam discovers a child wandering alone the narrative unfolds with terrifying consequence.
Simon Chapman’s cinematography is brilliant, framing the gorgeous Australian setting to resonate an alarming dissonance. This is echoed in the film’s narrative strands; cutting between Sam and Ian, the family that arrived at the campsite before them, and rough-as-guts locals, German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glennane). This non-linear arrangement of narrative is woven together subtly, unfolding gradually until escalating conflict carries the film to a sharp close.
Measured scriptwriting enabled powerful performances from the primary cast; the antagonists were nightmare-inspiring and the protagonists’ terror was palpable.
These performances rise from the remarkable characterisation developed in Killing Ground, and characters that exceed genre expectations. What does the audience assume about the doctor, the bookworm, and the ex-convict? What do we assume about humanity as a collective? At numerous instances the characters of Killing Ground defy expectations and contest the positions that the audience has assumed for them through wince-inducing, heart-aching, and courageously triumphant acts.
However, perhaps the film’s greatest triumph is the manner in which sections of dialogue and violent set pieces are carefully positioned to allude to Australia’s bloody colonial history and the relationship Australians have with that history today. In one of the earliest scenes of the film the genocide of Aboriginals at the camping ground is mentioned, and while German’s presumably shared Indigenousness with Pedersen remains largely sub-textual, it’s clear that the title of the film represents Australia itself. Although Power isn’t the first filmmaker to take this direction, his film contributes to the discussion of a subject that requires repeated attention, and achieves this in an intensely confronting, quietly unforgettable way.
Killing Ground is hard to watch—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Power’s debut film is utterly unsettling; the horror of Killing Ground can’t be dismissed because the events that unfold are not unreasonable—and a film established in a feasible, unsettling world like this one requires attention.