Killing Ground (3 stars)

Killing Ground

This unsettling Australian horror acts as an impressive calling card but doesn't fully satisfy

This grimly credible Aussie survival horror sees the sins of the past revisited in chilling fashion, as holidaymakers pitch their tents close to the scene of a historical massacre, only to be set upon by a pair of sadistic criminals. Mystery Road's Aaron Pedersen is an unforgettably menacing foe and Harriet Dyer makes a sympathetic and resourceful heroine.

The first feature from Tasmanian writer-director Damien Power presents two timelines, with events unfolding just a few days apart. As we skip back and forth, the filmmaker deftly draws together the fates of two sets of, initially happy, campers. When publisher Sam (Dyer) and medic Ian (Ian Meadows) arrive at a lakeside beach near Gungilee Falls to celebrate New Year's Eve in seclusion, they are disappointed to find another party have beaten them to it; although a tent is already in situ, its owners are nowhere to be seen.

That the victims are revealed as a family with a teenage daughter and young baby proves particularly troubling, not least as Power spends an uncomfortable amount of time in exploitation film territory. Fortunately, a twist undoes one of the most unforgivable cruelties.

The Falls' bloody history adds an unsettling undercurrent to the ostensibly idyllic environs – the area's indigenous inhabitants were murdered by white settlers – and when local reprobates German (Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane) show up it becomes a killing ground once more. That an Australian Aboriginal is one of the perpetrators could have made this explicitly about vengeance, and the impression certainly lingers. However the film seems to see itself as a damning indictment of humanity more generally – the way the serenity of the raggedly beautiful landscape is again shattered by man's (and, pointedly, men's) capacity for violence.

The structure generates considerable suspense and Power keeps conventional horror histrionics to a bare minimum. A sting in the tale adds a Force Majeure-esque dimension, which might have been enjoyable to explore, and it lacks the emotional impact and social satire of the similar Eden Lake. The stripped-back approach will appeal to fans of Wolf Creek and Long Weekend but, particularly in the wake of the formidable Get Out, which spoke so boldly about US race relations, this feels a bit hollow. The chance to say something about Australia's colonial past and the way it bleeds into its present in a genre hardly known for holding back seems like a missed opportunity.

Screening at selected cinemas and available for digital download from Fri 29 Sep.

Killing Ground

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • Australia
  • 1h 28min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Damien Power
  • Cast: Stephen Hunter, Harriet Dyer, Aaron Pedersen
  • UK release: 24 June 2017

Sam (Dyer) and Ian (Meadows) arrive at a lakeside beach to celebrate New Year’s Eve, only to find that another party seems to be there already; then two local reprobates (Pedersen and Glenane) show up. Grimly credible Aussie survival horror which fudges an obvious chance to say something about Australia’s colonial past.