Killing Ground


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Harriet Dyer in Killing Ground - Ian and Samantha arrive at an isolated campsite to find an SUV and a tent—with no sign of the occupants. The discovery of a distressed child wandering in the woods unleashes a terrifying chain of events that will test the young couple's breaking point.
"What Power does differently is to deny us the usual sources of comfort." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Have you ever sen an abandoned car or piece of clothing and wondered how it got there? For Sam and Ian (Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows) it's a tent that is the source of mystery, stranger because it still seems to be full of clothes and holiday gear. Director Damien Power was inspired to make this film after imagining such a tent and finding himself haunted by the questions it raised. Unfortunately for Sam and Ian, they solve their mystery.

This is the Australian Outback. Well established cinematic rules make clear that other rules don't apply. Ian has presumably never been inside a cinema, because he has chosen this remote camping spot on the advice of a rough-looking stranger he met in a car park, a man accompanied by a particularly aggressive dog. He and Sam have been looking forward to a quiet romantic getaway. When they find a lost toddler (played by Liam and Riley Parkes) who has clearly been alone in the woods for some time, another stranger suggests that Harriet look after the child by herself whilst Ian accompanies him on a search for the missing parents. The stranger has a rifle, of course, in case of danger. Things are going downhill fast.

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As Sam and Ian's story develops, Power intercuts scenes to tell us the story of how the toddler came to be there and what happened to the occupants of the tent. It's a fairly mundane tale, but believable because of it, disturbing in the way it illustrates that, unless one is prepared and can seize the initiative, being smart and having good basic survival skills is not enough to keep one safe in an environment where there's nobody around to help.

There are solid performances from all involved here, with Tiarnie Coupland the standout as the toddler's teenage sister, though she doesn't get a great deal to do. Although each story gets its own space to develop, the film is at its most interesting when exploring the relationship between Sam and Ian and the way in which their experiences force them to question their understanding of one another. Whilst each of the female characters has to face predatory male violence, there's a familiarity about that danger, and for Sam at least, the worst emotional blow comes from something else.

Ultimately, the central story in Killing Ground takes us through very familiar territory, and this will lead some viewers to disengage. What Power does differently is to deny us the usual sources of comfort found within this framework. The lost toddler epitomises the isolation every character experiences on some level. The only one who really seems able to connect is the dog.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2017
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Killing Ground packshot
A young couple camping in the woods find an abandoned tent and then a lost toddler.
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Director: Damien Power

Writer: Damien Power

Starring: Harriet Dyer, Aaron Pedersen, Stephen Hunter, Tiarnie Coupland, Ian Meadows, Maya Stange, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Aaron Glenane, Julian Garner, Tara Jade Borg, Michael Knott, Mark Gadaleta, Jackie Dettmer, Matthew Dettmer, Liam Parkes

Year: 2016

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Australia

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