Killing Ground is an unflinching Australian horror film that is not for the squeamish. When a couple stumbles upon an empty tent during their camping trip things take a shocking turn for the worse. The dreadful tone, sadistic killers, and sheer intensity save this film from being yet another entry in the predictable “campers hunted by locals” subgenre. Scream Factory’s A/V presentation of this violent Australian film offers a clean and vivid transfer with a respectable DTS audio mix. Unfortunately special features are at a minimum. Recommended for horror fans.
“What happened out there, it stays out there.”
Australian horror has seen quite a renaissance over the past two decades. From standout features like Wolf Creek, Snowtown, and The Babadook it’s clear that the Aussies know how to handle shock and unrelenting terror. However, breaking into the horror genre is a tough racket no matter where you call home. In Killing Ground the popular horror trope of “campers hunted by locals” is employed to steer this first feature from director Damien Power. Knowing how utterly grim and bleak Aussie horror can be, will this be another copycat of an overused idea or will we see something fresh and exciting?
Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) are out on a New Year’s camping trip headed to Australia’s Gungilee Falls. With their tiny sedan packed up they drive through lush forests and work on a crossword puzzle together to pass the time. Stopping at a convenience store for some celebratory champagne, Ian asks a local hunter named German (Aaron Pedersen) for directions. Arriving at the campsite the happy couple are slightly disappointed to see another tent nearby. As time passes Ian and Sam grow concerned that they haven’t seen their neighbors yet. We quickly cut to another campsite with a family of four enjoying the outdoors with teenager Em and toddler Ollie trying to make the best of it with their hippie parents. Back in town we learn more about German and his roommate Chook (Aaron Glenane) as they prey upon girls at the pub with invitations to go shooting with them. After an altercation in the bathroom over Chook’s phone, German informs him that some people are going to the falls and they might discover something they shouldn’t. Ian is collecting firewood and finds a small blue hat in the dirt. When we cut back to the family preparing for a hike we see little Ollie wearing the same hat. Chook soon arrives at the falls with his rifle. What transpires is a violent, sadistic, and horrifying experience in the Australian wilderness that leaves no one unscathed.
This debut from director Damien Power is an excellent genre outing in that it doesn’t try to reinvent anything but doesn’t break new ground either. What makes Killing Ground work is the intense violence and grim tone established over the course of the film’s non-linear structure. There are a number of horror tropes employed to get things rolling like a lack of cell phone coverage at the camp and flat tires to name a few. However, when you’re firmly comfortable with the predictive nature of the film things take a serious turn. One scene in particular with Ollie is so raw I had to walk away for a second to calm down. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Killing Ground doesn’t hold back ever. If a toddler is fair game you better buckle up, folks. Thankfully it doesn’t feel like exploitative torture porn. I never got the sense that Power was playing with our emotions or toying with our frail sensibilities. Nothing is for shock value here. Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows turn in strong performances as the young couple in love. Their characters are put through the ringer and what these two actors convey through them is astounding to watch. Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glenane are perfectly cast for the roles of German and Chook. Both men are able to portray these unmotivated psychotic killers with such ease it’s downright scary.
The stakes are high in Killing Ground but ultimately it doesn’t take you anywhere. Power’s choice of a non linear structure helps build tension but I would argue the twist occurs too early in the film which results in predictive plotting. What you don’t expect is the onslaught of brutal torture and cruelty. You have an idea where this film is going but you don’t expect how it’s going to get there. There is so much meat on this skeleton of a movie that it’s worth checking out. While I didn’t love it, it's a great first step from a new voice in Australian horror.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Scream Factory and IFC Midnight bring Killing Ground to Blu-ray in a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack. The BD25 Region A Blu-ray and Region 1 DVD are housed in a standard keepcase on opposite sides of the case. The disc loads with studio logos and three trailers before landing on the static Main Menu presented with typical navigation options.
Damien Power’s feature debut looks great on Scream Factory’s 1080p 2.37:1 aspect ratio Blu-ray. The transfer is bright with nicely produced colors. Fine detail is present in skin and costuming. Natural light with the forest setting looks remarkably detailed and full of vivid colors. Black levels are consistent and very dark. I didn’t see any noise in the image even with dark interior scenes using minimal available light. For a low budget feature this video presentation is very impressive.
With a respectable DTS-HD MA mix in 5.1 and 2.0, Killing Ground won’t amaze you with its audio but it’ll get your heart pumping thanks to a driving score and a commitment to atmospherics. Surround elements are mostly supportive but elevate the feature with tense musical scoring and environmental effects. Center and front channels handle the proceedings nicely but are a bit muddled at times with dialogue sounding too hidden in the texture. I’d recommend turning on the optional subtitles given the Aussie dialect, too.
Killing Ground Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:13)
The Survivalist (HD 2:04)
Wakefield (HD 2:05)
A Dark Song (HD 2:18)
While Killing Ground doesn’t break any new ground (see what I did there?) with its depiction of campers getting hunted by locals it has enough shocking violence and interesting plot developments to keep it from being another Wolf Creek copycat. Needless to say I am anxiously waiting for Power’s next feature to push the envelope even more. Scream Factory’s A/V presentation provides a clean transfer that looks great with a respectable DTS audio mix. Unfortunately you don’t get any special features which is a real downer. Recommended for fans.