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Killing Ground
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by Jay Seaver

"Making Ozploitation boring."
1 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: When people who don't like horror movies in general ask those who do how they can enjoy that sort of garbage, they're talking about movies like "Killing Ground". With the good stuff, you can talk about nightmare imagery, stories which allow you to confront fears directly or metaphorically, or just admiring the staging and choreography of a suspenseful scene and the catharsis that comes afterward with the good ones, but sometimes, even with good intentions, a movie is just serving up rape and murder without a whole lot else, and staging it competently just isn't enough.

So it is with this one, which opens with shots of a nice spot for camping in New South Wales, although notably devoid of people, even when a nice family-sized tent is in the scene. Young couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) are headed there for New Year's Eve, and are a bit puzzled to see the empty tent. We do get a look at people there a few days earlier - a bourgie couple (Stephen Hunter & Maya Stange), their teenage daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland), and baby Ollie (Liam & Riley Parkes). Where the heck are they now - and why did that guy at the pub (Aaron Pedersen) say this Gungillee Falls spot wasn't accessible. What are he and his housemate Chook (Aaron Glenane) hiding?

Obviously, it's that the local constabulary should probably be looking at them for more than a dog that barks too long and loud for the neighbors. The trouble is, as movie spree killers go, they're pretty boring. They don't have the sort of motivation that makes their madness a twisted version of something that sane people recognize, they're generally not inventive enough to set clever traps, they don't even have the sort of weird charisma that makes them larger-than-life forces of chaos. They just violate and kill for what comes across as no reason other than for a horror movie, and what's that get an audience? There are more interesting monsters out there.

There are things you can do with that, but the structure writer/director Damien Power chooses kind of undercuts that. He and his cast do a fair enough job of sketching out who both potential pairs of victims are - Ian & Sam are an easily likable pair, and Em's family is not just amiable but has a little something extra going with the daughter having trouble sleeping due to some horrible nightmares, so their talk about changing the ending of them might be foreshadowing - but alternating between them never lets the movie build up a head of steam between the impending doom implied by the empty tent and the adrenaline of a suddenly very motivated couple trying to escape. He's got a surprise or two in store for how things connect and play out, but it's hard to enjoy the creativity or ponder how things will play out when the cruelty simply overwhelms it.

And Killing Ground is, above all, just cruel. A viewer can sometimes feel that Power is looking to find a way to push the envelope in a way that the jaded horror audience hasn't seen, so he involves an infant, or makes a fair amount of mention that a character has served time for sexual assault. The kills are often built to be anti-climactic, but not in a way that makes one ponder what leads to them. It's just mean without any particular point to make about that meanness.

Sure, it's capably-made enough - the Aussie scenery is pretty and well-shot, the acting is capable, the pacing tight - but there are a lot of movies about people being killed in the wilderness out there. This one doesn't add anything new or do anything extraordinarily well, so why bother?

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originally posted: 07/16/17 03:58:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Damien Power

Written by
  Damien Power

  Tiarnie Coupland
  Aaron Pedersen
  Stephen Hunter
  Harriet Dyer
  Maya Stange

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