Offsetting its grand, sprawling Australian outback locale with a dark, often uncomfortably intimate story that crosscuts between altering timelines, Killing Ground is an assured, at times unapologetic, debut feature from writer/director Damien Power.
Taut, tightly wound and brutal without resorting to exploitation, the film initially focuses on sprightly couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), a recently engaged pair who are looking for a little R&R in the outback on the eve of the New Year. As romantic as their first night together is, the morning highlights the eerie reality for their neighbouring tent, one that appears ransacked with no campers in sight. Matters are made significantly worse when they discover their car has a flat tire, as well as the upsetting find that is a young infant wandering aimlessly in a dirtied state.
The non-linear plot approach Power adopts allows the audience to slowly piece the story together, and it becomes evident that the abandoned infant belongs to another couple, one who have been savagely slain by local bushmen Chook (Aaron Glenane) and German (Aaron Pedersen). The scenes involving Chook, German and the young family are indeed some of Killing Ground‘s most shocking, but as much as the film doesn’t shy away from realism, its sequences of violence and suggested sexual violation never linger longer than they need to.
Once a grasp has been held on the film’s rhythm and editing, it is increasingly difficult to not get caught up in this alarming state of affairs. Power certainly makes us work as an audience, but the unravelling of the story and where everything fits together is a plot device worthy of commendation, not to mention his evident talent at nixing any unnecessary exposition and servicing his story with a realism that revels in its layers of discomfort.
As investing as Killing Ground proves to be, perhaps one of its downfalls is in its slight lack of focus on our victims – both past and future – as the scant 85 minute running time means there isn’t a great deal of time spent with them before tragedy strikes; Meadows and Dyer do manage to evoke our sympathies though through their naturalistic performances. It’s ultimately a minor quibble with an assured film however, a feature that is well made, dedicatedly performed, and unsettling in its refusal to pander to its audience.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Killing Ground hits select cinemas today through Mushroom Pictures.