Director: Damien Power
Screenwriter: Damien Power
Australian release date: 24 August 2017
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 24 August 2017.
Debutante director Damien Power’s Killing Ground joins a long line of ‘Ozploitation’ movies that began with the 10BA films of the 1970s and continues to this day with new, and regular, additions. It’s a proud history, celebrated in Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! Many of these films deal with an elemental fear of the bush, and the characters who inhabit it, which is strange when you think about it because, apart from generally pretty docile snakes and spiders, there’s not much out there that can hurt you. Except Man. I suspect this fear is deeply-rooted and harks back to the origins of white settlement, when the newly arrived English were aghast at the sheer foreignness of the Australian wilderness. Whatever the reason, it still works as a great set-up for a thriller.
In Killing Ground, a young city couple, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows), set off on a camping trip to an isolated area in the NSW bush to celebrate New Year’s Eve together. When they stop to pick up a bottle of champagne, Ian asks a local about the road conditions and is told that the terrain is difficult and they will need a four-wheel drive to get there. The man, German (Aaron Pedersen), suggests they head instead for a creek-side beach that would make a good camping ground. When the couple arrives they are disappointed to discover another tent already set up there but decide to stay anyway as there’s plenty of room for both. The following morning the tent opposite is still empty and when Sam, whose curiosity gets the better of her, checks it out she senses that something is not quite right. From that moment on things seem to fall apart as Ian discovers they have a flat tyre and he can’t remove the wheel nuts to put the spare on. Then a ‘bushie,’ Chook (Aaron Glenane) turns up, a local hunting for wild pigs, and suggests that he and Ian go and look for the missing people at the nearby falls, as it will only take them 15 minutes and may give them some idea as to what’s happened to them. Yeah, right.
Power also wrote the clever script, which shows how we all behave differently in challenging circumstances. It displays how we can react under extremes, how some are stronger than others, and how the act of survival brings out the true nature of individuals. He also simultaneously intertwines three narrative strands - that of the young couple, the missing campers and the two hunters. It’s an astute device and it serves the plot well. The two Aarons, Pedersen and Glenane, are terrifyingly ‘normal’ as German and Chook; you’ll see blokes similar to them in a lot of country pubs (although hopefully not as repressed), and Meadows and Dyer convince as the hapless city-slickers. You have to wonder if films like Killing Ground and its predecessors in the genre (Wolf Creek et al.) will deter tourists considering travelling in Australia’s outback; it should certainly make them think twice. The other thing the film should do is make us keep a close eye on Damien Power - he’s definitely someone to watch… in a good way. Killing Ground is a tight, tense, scary ordeal that may well serve as a cautionary tale and is a strong addition to the ‘Ozploitation’ canon.