Damien Power’s Killing Ground fancies itself an Aussie variant of the Last House On The Left-type horror flick instead of a Wolf Creek rip-off, with its minimalist but violent narrative played out in beautiful outback locations.
However, while there’s much here to admire, from the lovely low-budget cinematography to the committed performances and cool plot manipulations, it’s a little too disquietingly vicious at times and, by the end, somewhat depressing.
An amiable couple are holidaying somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s, and as they drive through the countryside listening to the Sunnyboys classic Alone With You, we can’t help but get to like Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows), who’s established as a medical student which, of course, might be important later. They’re advised to take a detour to isolated Gungilee Falls (a fictional camping spot that was actually Simmo’s Beach Reserve, NSW) by a local portrayed by Aaron Pedersen, familiar from the very fine Mystery Road pics and the ABC’s Jack Irish outings.
It’s a picturesque spot, but Sam and Ian, who have obviously never seen a horror movie before, wonder why a nearby tent seems abandoned, and director Power sneakily begins to splinter the storyline so subtly that some audiences have been caught by surprise. We’re then introduced to the other family — Dad Rob (Julian Garner), Mum Margaret (Maya Stange), troubled 16 year old daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland) and baby brother Ollie (Liam and Riley Parkes) — and snap backwards and forwards from their plight to Sam and Ian’s increasing concern for their own safety. We also get up close and personal with Pedersen’s character (known only as ‘German’) and his mate Chook (Aaron Glenane). We wish we hadn’t, as it becomes clear they’ve been ‘hunting’.
Fiddling with a plot-line that could have been dully straightforward otherwise, Power’s film is distinguished by strong work from the small cast, with Dyer, Meadows and Coupland particularly good in the most traumatic parts. Pedersen (who jumped at the chance to play against type) and Glenane are also impressive as killers (no spoilers necessary) who bear little resemblance to John Jarratt in the Wolf Creek films and TV series. His Mick Taylor is mythical and near-supernatural, while these white-trash lads are just a pair of sadistic yobbos.
Rated MA. Killing Ground is in cinemas now.