The Australian forest is beautifully thick, dense, and keeps you away from that stressful urban civilization. However, those qualities quickly transform into your biggest enemies when no one can hear you scream. Intense. Stressful. Gut-wrenching. Those are all terms that went through my mind after I sat through the Canadian premiere of “Killing Ground” at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival. Your perception of camping will change forever.
Rather than celebrate with friends and family, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) decide to go camping on New Year’s Eve and rejoice humbly like the cute couple they are. Upon their arrival on the beach in the midst of the forest, they notice a nearby tent, but it seems unoccupied. Figuring their temporary neighbors will show up eventually, especially since their vehicle is still around, they go on with their camping routine. When they stumble upon an abandoned toddler, dirtied and bruised, that’s when things get worrisome for them, especially since they seem to have gotten a flat tire on the harsh, unpaved road that lead to this camping site. Their worries have only just begun, as they are about to meet German (Aaron Pederson) and Chook (Aaron Glenane) who are the sole reasons why the nearby tent has been uninhabited for the past few days.
Damien Power is a first-time motion picture writer and director, having done the same for a few short films. What a promising future this man has in the world of cinema. He does not hold back in every way you can imagine in this thriller, making you cover your mouth, cringe in disgust and clench your teeth in anger till it hurts. Protagonist characters are believable, act realistically (a nice change from usual horror movies) in addition to forcing you to get attached to them quickly. On the other hand, the two “hunters”, as they like to call themselves, are sinister, disturbing, and heartless. Power also does a fantastic job at playing with the chronology of time, alternating back and forth between the family of four that was on the camping site days earlier and the couple who arrive soon after. It even took me awhile to realize that the storylines were not occurring simultaneously, and I enjoyed that, forcing you to realize that the tent was left vacant for alarming reasons, raising the level of concern and anxiety a few notches.
What Damien Power also succeeds at was to have you know that a horrible act occurred without actually seeing it take place. Seeing the aftermath of an atrocious, hideous deed and allowing the viewers to imagine their own scene and the details of what took place is sometimes more unsettling than actually witnessing it. Unnecessary gore was also avoided, although relentless on the violence, to focus on the mental anguish of the main characters.
Casting was superbly executed. The “duo of Aarons,” who portray the menacing pair of hunters, are phenomenal in their roles, allowing the audience to see their every day, light-hearted routine take darker turns as their ominous actions hide something truly shocking. Aaron Pederson is very believable as the cold-hearted veteran of the two while Aaron Glenane depicts a more immature, yet deranged, criminal. You could not have found a more adorable couple than the one formed by Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows, truly seeming in love and boiling with chemistry onscreen.
Though a scene or two were predictable, numerous others will have you clutching at your temples in disbelief and horror, wondering how one could have no ounce of empathy for another human being. You’ll feel enraged at German and Chook for being such despicable assholes, and if Damien Power and his sensational cast can make you feel that way and forget that it’s simply a film, then they did a remarkable job at it.
If you do not, at any moment throughout the 89 minutes of the motion picture, feel uneasy, uncomfortable, enraged or shocked, then you are one cold-blooded son of a gun with a black heart who should get a reality check. Damien Power’s first feature film “Killing Ground” deserves a solid 4 stars out of 5.