Every time a brutal Aussie horror film hits hard overseas, someone at Tourism Australia must scream.
Tasmanian filmmaker Damien Power’s Killing Ground is the latest in a long line of blood-curdling advertisements for excruciating death at the hands of merciless psychopaths while surrounded by, admittedly beautiful, but also isolated Australian landscapes. Forget the selfies and run for your life.
Featuring charismatic Janet King star Harriet Dyer as Sam and The Wrong Girl’s Ian Meadows as Ian, a young city couple in love, their biggest mistake is setting out on a New Year’s Eve camping trip into the bush.
That the remote, heavily wooded spot with no mobile reception is near the site of an Aboriginal massacre already lends it a sense of foreboding.
This is amplified by a fingernail-biting, non-linear structure, distressingly teasing out the real reason why their only neighbouring tent appears to have been abandoned.
Killing Ground also does a PR disservice to anyone called Aaron. Mystery Road and Goldstone star Aaron Pedersen brings a glowering menace to an ex-con tradie nicknamed German. Even giving directions to a clueless Ian rings the klaxon of silent alarms. Aaron Glenane, as German’s flatmate Chook, gives off a creepily skittish, predatory energy.
Working well-worn horror tropes, Power energises them with the taut, split narrative involving the peril of another family with a toddler. He’s ably assisted by the claustrophobic cinematography of Simon Chapman, who also shot Aussie horror The Loved Ones and Texas-set The Devil’s Candy.
Featuring strong performances, Dyer in particular sells the fight-or-flight terror.
Debuting at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year, Screen International’s Sarah Ward said that Power “imparts a sense of aesthetic restraint, knowing that waiting is often more unnerving than blustering straight ahead”.
Killing Ground went on to freak out American critics at a midnight screening at Sundance.
David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter described it as a “white-knuckle thriller” that was “basically 88 minutes’ worth of good reasons not to seek tranquil solitude in Australia’s beautiful nature reserves”.
Variety critic Dennis Harvey was similarly freaked, calling Killing Ground an impressive first feature that “transcends the clichés … laying down a solid hour of effective build-up to a duly hair-raising, prolonged climax”.
In the grand canon of Aussie horrors giving Tourism Australia nightmares, the outback, in particular, is a place travellers go to die horribly.
Hitching a ride unleashes the unstoppable rampage of psychotic killer Mick Taylor, played with iconic chills by John Jarratt in director Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek movies, now an ongoing Stan anthology series.
Then there’s the monstrous fate of being gored to death by a giant flesh-hungry bush pig in Russell Mulcahy’s 1984 shocker Razorback.
Famous Aussie hospitality? Never has the offer of a round of beer been more terrifying than in Ted Kotcheff’s big screen adaptation of author Kenneth Cook’s small-town nightmare Wake In Fright. Alex Dimitriades and David Wenham star in Network Ten’s rebooted mini-series.
Go on a school trip and, according to novelist Joan Lindsay’s sensuously mysterious Picnic at Hanging Rock, eerily adapted by filmmaker Peter Weir, you might never come back.
Glenane will appear in a new Picnic at Hanging Rock miniseries coming soon on Foxtel.
Killing Ground is in cinemas nationally from August 24.