Review – Killing Ground (2017) Edinburgh Film Festival

by Old King Clancy

I’m gonna take some cues from Walter White and tread lightly on this review, part of what makes Killing Ground so great is how it utilizes a unique narrative technique in order to tell its story. In doing so, allow itself to hit some really disturbing and sickening moments that other horror films wouldn’t go near. This is gonna be a must for genre fans, but go in blind to get the full effect of what the film wants to put you through.

Set in the Australian outback, the film opens with doctor Ian (Ian Meadows) and his publisher fiancée Sam (Harriet Dyer) arriving at a campsite, where Ian use to frequent with his parents. However, their secluded getaway is marred by another family, Rob (Julian Garner), Margaret (Maya Stange), daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland) and baby son Ollie, already set up camp. What either family knows is that their chosen spot is a favored hunting ground for serial killers German (Aaron Pedersen) and his partner Chook (Aaron Glenane).

That’s all I’m going to say, it’s a very simple set-up that is very familiar to horror fans. This includes the secluded location, happy-go-lucky heroes on holidays, evil villains do evil things. But what this film is able to do is change the script, so you’re not going the way you think it’s going. It’s subtle at first, but you have to pay attention so you’ll catch on fairly quickly and once you do, it’ll change how you approach the film because it’s not a simple slasher flick.

For this type of film, it was simply about liking the good guys and hating the bad guys and in that case the film did exactly what it set out to do. Rob and Margaret were a fairly relaxed couple, a little bohemian, but both loving and caring. Their daughter Em was a little more modernized and was frequently taking pictures on her phone, but despite some groan-worthy moments, she still loved her parents. Once the terror starts, the three of them start looking to each other for help with Margaret and Em standing out for the sheer, unbridled terror in their performances.

Ian and Sam got a little more screen-time being the main heroes of this journey, Ian being a doctor was the most pragmatic in the group and worked to ensure the safety of the others first and foremost. However, Ian is not a hero and finds himself being pushed into situations that require him to have more courage than he actually has. As much as he tries to be the leader, there’s a weaker aspect to the character that makes for a more interesting viewing. Sam took a very central role and proved almost as practical as her fiancé, she was thrown into the thick of it, but refused to play along even at great cost as the two killers. 

Speaking of which, goddamn do they make it easy for you to hate German and Chook. I believe Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor was my favorite Aussie villain, but man these two come really close. German is clearly the mastermind having done this sort of evil before and gone to jail because of it. Clearly he learned nothing, while Chook is his dim-witted apprentice brought in by the appeal of living free to torture and kill. It becomes clear that Chook is a mad-dog with German holding his leash. During the film’s final act, Chook is let off that leash and things just get darker when you think they’ve gone as far as they can go.

I gotta give a lot of credit to first time feature director Damien Power for just having the balls to go as far as he does with this film, how he sets up the narrative, and how he’s able to take bigger risks while it enhances the film as a result. There’s one scene in particular that will just leave you with the biggest hole in your gut and nearly traumatized with how they can take the film in that direction. Trust me, speaking as someone who’s seen more than his fair share of horror, I was stunned at how far Power goes with this film.

While the narrative tricks do add a new element to the film, even looking past that Power has built a solid outback thriller, things get really tense with how Power sets the film up with that fear that is all the more palpable because you know exactly what’s at stake. A chase scene near the middle of the film has Chook and German chasing two different targets and you find yourself waiting for the two chases to meet in the middle. Chook’s personal torture of Sam just adds to how uncomfortable this film can get and the whole finale taking place at night that uses the pitch-black of the surrounding area to keep the suspense and you’re waiting for something to go wrong. Perhaps most interestingly, Power frequently manages to avoid genre conventions and actively flips them on their head, whenever you think something good is going to come along, Power says ‘F*** you’ and snatches any feeling of hope away from you.

Killing Ground could’ve very easily been another Outback Horror movie akin to Wolf Creek or The Loved Ones, but through Power’s uncompromising hands, it manages to set itself apart. In doing so, creates one of the most unsettling and gut-punching horror films of the modern age. It’s simple premise executes brilliantly with Power showcasing a future talent waiting to be discovered that will prove a must for genre fans in the future with a necessity to go in completely blind to any of the film’s tricks.

I am giving Killing Ground a 4 ½ out of 5 Hairpieces!

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