Directed by: Damien Power
Cast: Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows
You never really know what you’ll get when you dabble with a backwoods slasher. It isn’t easy to create compelling wrinkles when dealing with this format, but Damien Power’s latest, Killing Ground, discovers and lurks in unique territory, where gratuitous violence isn’t needed to disconcert the viewer, despite the fact that Power takes things really, really far.
Unlike films like Wolf Creek, which relishes the repulsive visuals it delivers, Killing Ground opts to avoid the bulk of the graphic shots, leaving the imagination to concoct its own vision of devastation. And unlike another similar film, Eden Lake, Killing Ground leans heavily on tension and nurtures the characters for extended periods of time before they run into trouble. Those are both similar features in concept, but radically different in execution. And, for the record, backwoods slasher may not be the perfect term for this film, as there’s really not much slashing involved. The threat comes from a duo of aged degenerates who like to keep it simple: rape and shoot.
Again, my attention has to fall back on Power’s patience and respect for the viewer. We don’t technically see anyone being raped, we’re just given that powerful suggestion and left to see it as our minds decide to see it. It’s a weird thing to say, but Killing Grounds has an unorthodox degree of class to it, and that proves simultaneously beautiful and harrowing.
The story itself, were you to scan a few synopses would sound exactly like every other lost in the woods, run into psycho’s story out there. But that isn’t an accurate assessment of things. For one, the film tells of the destruction of two separate families, but Power staggers the timeline, so we consistently jump back and forth between one family’s fate and another’s likely fate. As the film reaches its climax both narratives collide to produce some deeply disheartening material. We’re talking grim, sad stuff here. Killing Ground isn’t the kind of film you’ll love, but you’ll admire the hell out of this clever and classy contribution to the genre.
We see some awesome performances from a handful of faces most stateside fans won’t recognize, but that’s no deterrent. These actors and actresses are as professional as they come, and they project the emotions each situation calls for perfectly. You don’t see that often. It’s also fairly uncommon to see successful role reversals. We’ve seen plenty of movies in which the woman ends up being the alpha in a relationship, but few of those flicks are decidedly convincing. Harriet Dyer, who plays the film’s focal female, Sam, is extremely convincing in her role as the heroine, and not because she hurls punchlines at villains and sustains horrific abuse only to rally and single handedly take out the villains. She’s successful because she responds as an everywoman would. She makes mistakes. She’s terrified. But she’s also trying to survive while doing the right things. Her onscreen love interest, Ian (played by Ian Meadows) is also great, because he does falter. He’s not the knight in shining armor, he’s a 30-something guy trying to survive but scared out of his wits and a bit beaten down. He’s vulnerable, and sometimes genre filmmakers don’t like the idea of making their male leads so susceptible to peril. Damien Power plays it realistic, and through wise decisions like these, turns our characters into human beings.
I won’t spoil the film for you, and there are a handful of revelations that would no doubt do so. But I will tell you that midway through 2017, we’ve got another contender for year’s best horror picture.