Sundance 2017 Review: ‘Killing Ground’ is a Smart, Killer Thriller
Just when you thought it was safe to go camping again comes a new thriller, Killing Ground, by director/writer Damien Power.
The story involves three sets of people. Ian and Sam are the couple on their way to enjoy a romantic weekend campout but find themselves in a fight for survival. There is a family of campers the same area as Ian and Sam’s destination. German and Chook are two individuals with some very dark secrets.
The scenes in the first two acts involving these groups are presented out of order. With a crafty script written by Power and the sharp editing of Katie Flaxman, the story is presented in a way that makes the audience have to think as they are given pieces of the puzzle one-by-one, until finally revealing the entire picture in the final act. This helped create a dark and foreboding atmosphere that is constant throughout the picture. The audience knows that something bad has already happened, and will happen again, but won’t know when. This level of cleverness is not often seen in survival thrillers.
Another unique aspect to Killing Ground is the depth in character of the bad guys. German and Chook are given nearly as much screen time as the main protagonists, allowing viewers to get to know them, see their perspectives, and learn about their relationship with each other. I particularly enjoyed how these characters were written. It was a refreshing change from the standard crazy, backwoods killer you might typically expect from this type of film. German (Aaron Pedersen) is played with a cold, calculated performance. There is one scene where he is looking directly at the screen and it feels as if he is a lion and you are the prey.
Ian Meadows and Harriet Dyer, who play Ian and Sam respectively, present a realistic couple without feeling overly sweet or cliche. In fact, all of the characters in this film felt real and not exaggerated.
Many of today’s thrillers and horror films seem to go out of their way to be shocking, edgy or controversial, but they go about it in the most lazy way. This is not the case with Killing Ground. There are a number of brutal acts of violence, but rather than showing the audience everything it is what isn’t shown that makes this thriller so effective. Sometimes the violence happens off screen. Other times the audience only sees the start or the aftermath. What isn’t seen allows the audience’s imagination to run wild, provoking a stronger emotional reaction than if everything was laid out for them. The cinematography of Simon Chapman helped in this with a balance of tracking, close up, and wide shots.
Killing Ground is a well executed, tension filled backwoods thriller. It is traditional in its concept but non-traditional in its execution, putting it above many other films of its type. The script is a refreshing change from common tropes and allows the audience to think for itself. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun thriller. I would be hesitant in recommending it to campers because after seeing this film, they may never go into the woods again.