The second relatively prominent Aussie horror film of the year, Damien Power's Killing Ground sits alongside Hounds of Love in terms of brutality, bone-chills and its capacity to inspire feelings of nausea in its viewers. Where it doesn't match up, however, is in doing something new with the disturbing violence that it pedals.
The film tells the story of a camping ground from three different perspectives. First up is a young couple, Ian and Sam (played by Ian Meadows and Harriet Dyer), who embark on a New Year's Eve jaunt away from the city, only to find there's already a tent set-up in the remote place they thought they'd have to themselves. Number two are the owners of said tent: a family of four complete with teenager and a toddler named Ollie. Three is a pair of reprehensible men, German and Chook (Aaron Pederson and Aaron Glenane). By the time the penny drops and Ian and Sam figure out that the tent is empty, the audience has already cottoned on: the three storylines aren't happening consecutively, and bad things have already occurred. It's a clever plot device, but the cleverness runs out there.
The film succeeds, in part, in setting up an environment that for all its sun and lake views will make you feel bitterly cold inside. Aaron Pederson's German is a terrifying, unpredictable vision of unhinged male violence, and the sight of a distressed Ollie wandering around alone is both sickening and chilling.
Once Sam and Ian have gauged that all is not well with Ollie's parents, the film quickly descends into a tale of violence, rape, and a whole lot of frustration on the part of the audience. The couple take a truly infuriating amount of time to realise they should just leave and call the police – Ian even willingly accompanying Chook on a search mission to the nearby falls which will "only take 15 minutes", even though there's a sign that says the falls are 4km away. I mean come on Ian, you're a doctor, you're supposed to be smart.
But even more frustrating is that ultimately, it all feels as though it's for naught. For all its atmosphere, the film ends up being an unrelenting exercise in gratuitous violence with no apparent novelty or meaning. By the time the gruesome two hours are up, viewers will be left with not much more than a funny tummy and a reluctance to go camping for a while. Although if you do head out into the woods after this film, you'll be sure to check any neighbouring tents.
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