Damien Power’s feature debut Killing Ground adopts an interesting non-linear structure that nicely builds tension to tell a story that’s otherwise unremarkable. However smart it is in its plotting, the film ultimately succumbs to needlessly over-the-top violence.
Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), a couple whose back story is never really revealed, travel to a secluded beach in the outback of Australia, somewhere Ian used to visit as a kid. Hoping for a quiet New Year’s, they’re disappointed to see another tent already set up on the beach. Refusing to let it ruin their trip, Ian and Sam put it to one side. But when there’s still no sign of the tent dwellers come nightfall, the couple’s suspicions begin to mount – something that’s heightened when Sam comes across a toddler, with cuts and scrapes all over his face, wandering along in the woods.
The film, which is also written by Power, benefits from a narrative structure that flits back at forth between the two perspectives: the couples and the previous family who are now nowhere to be seen. This helps in building up some tension as the real reason behind the family’s disappearance slowly but surely falls into place. It’s annoying then, that none of the characters are fleshed out beyond their simple outlines. Power does spend some time with the men responsible for the mysterious happenings in the woods, but it’s never enough for their intentions to be clear. Nor do we know too much about Ian and Sam, other than they’re a couple who become engaged during the films first half. It makes it difficult to root for them when they become embroiled in their own desperate struggle for survival that’s unspools in the latter half of the film.
The setting of the outback does somewhat create an eerie sense of danger, even when Ian and Sam are back in civilisation, and Power enlists an editor in the form of Katie Flaxman who deserves a lot of the credit for the parts of the film that work. The natural sounds of the outback itself, cracks of twigs and calls of various animals, are unnerving. This is undermined, however, by how much Power leans into torture violence – something perfected by Eli Roth in the Hostel series. There becomes a point in the film, towards the end, when it feels like overt violence is being used for the sake of it, not in a way that feels beneficial or enhancing to the story.
Killing Ground isn’t terrible. Far from it, in fact. It uses the non-linear narrative structure well to toy with the audience and create a sense of mystery around the duel arcs of the characters involved. But there comes a point when Power steps over the line into brutal territory (rape is signalled quite heavily), and that’s when the film loses its way and hold on the audience.