Killing Ground – Review
A couple's camping trip turns into a frightening ordeal when they stumble across the scene of a horrific crime.
My fiancee and I tend to blind pick movies. We take a quick look at the plot and hit the play button if it sounds somewhat interesting. With this in mind we almost never know where the movie originated. One thing you can guarantee, however, is that if we hear an Australian accent one of us will comment that this movie is likely to be horribly bleak, massively depressing, and full of gratuitous violence.
This is obviously an unfair statement that is laced with hyperbole but it is hard not to notice the impact that a few Australian horror movies have had with their insane level of bleakness. Like a lot of hyperbolic statements, there is a little truth buried in there somewhere. Do I even dare bring up Snowtown? Sure it is a biographical horror based on real events but I don’t think I have ever seen such a depressing movie in my life. Throw in Hounds of Love and Wolf Creek and you have a recipe for something that would make a bloody good Joy Division song to cut yourself to.
Of course it is never really fair to judge one country’s entire horror genre based on a couple of movies. Not all Aussie horror is bleak and violent. Australia has produced some fantastic horror movies that don’t follow this pattern at all. Triangle and Lake Mungo are both examples of excellent Aussie horror movies that do things very differently. Whilst also being pretty bleak and violent, The Loved Ones is worth watching over and over again due to just how brilliant it is. Aussie horror can be among the very best in the world but when Aussie horror is violent and moody, it does it with panache.
Enter Killing Ground, another “Aussie camper meets Outback Yokel with murderous intent” horror movie from 2016.
Bleak, Violent, Aussie Horror
Now make no mistake here, I am not against violent horror movies. If there is a decent plot to keep things plodding along, violence has its place. Life, by its very nature, is incredibly violent and it is a fact that some people face incredibly violent and traumatic experiences over the course of their lives. Why shouldn’t this reality be reflected in art?
Where I do have a problem is when a movie seems to deliver nothing but violence. When it feels as though a horror movie is attempting to knock down wall after wall of decency for the sake of garnering a reputation for itself; it is hard not to begin to question the motivation of the creator. On one of the posters for Killing Ground, the review snippet from Rolling Stone reads “Not for the faint-hearted. You’ve been warned!”. I imagine this is the exact type of coverage Killing Ground was going for.
Brutal? Yes! Violent? Indeed! Necessary? Nope, not in the slightest. All Killing Ground has is its violence – violence and boredom. Killing Ground can be summed up in as few words as “couple goes camping, rape, murder, child violence, and little else, happens”. It is unashamedly harsh and completely lacks substance.
Dueling Plot Lines
Directed by Damien Power (cool name) we spend the majority of Killing Ground flashing between two equally boring plot lines taking place at different times ala a pound shop version of Pulp Fiction. We start with couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Samantha (Harriet Dyer) taking a trip to a camping location somewhere in Australia only to notice another tent and car in the spot they planned to stay. They decide to stay anyway with Samantha being particularly keen to stay somewhere close to others.
Mundane camping stuff aside, Samantha and Ian enjoy their time together and decide to get engaged. Over time we flash to another family: a middle aged couple, their 16 year old daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland) and their young son Ollie. They are the family occupying the tent in the location where Ian and Samantha are staying. It is made apparent that this timeline is around a week prior to that of Ian and Samantha; just a day or so after Christmas. Their reasons for being there aren’t elaborated on but who needs character development when you have excessive violence?
Moving on it becomes clear to Ian and Samantha that the tent, formally occupied by the family, is abandoned and in disarray. Aiming to go back into town to let the authorities know, Ian has to fix a flat on his Mazda 3. While waiting for Ian as he fumbles around with the wheel, Samantha suddenly finds the other couple’s young son Ollie walking in the bush. This sets off a chain of brutal events for Ian and Samantha as well as a number of revelations about the other family.
Plots out of the way, let’s get to the violence
I find it really difficult to not expect excessive violence whenever I watch a horror with an underdeveloped plot. I think writers see the plot as little more than a means to an end. Give the characters a reason to exist in the context of the movie, don’t worry too much about character development or motivation. Just make sure you have some sadistic murderers that don’t know why they are doing what they are doing so you don’t have to explain their reasons. Killing ground falls right into this pattern.
Like ducks set up in a row ready to be shot down, the characters here are undefined and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. They are just there to be victims. This is poor film making in my opinion. This is not a slasher horror where we just need a decent body count. Killing Ground presents itself as something more than that but ends up being so much less.
We have 30 minutes of character introduction and establishing of scene before over 50 minutes of the film is spent recapping the fate of the family. As the flashbacks unfold, we witness events in the present with Ian and Samantha as they look after Ollie.
All this builds to a climax with a nothing ending that leaves the fate of certain characters completely untold. All we actually ever know about the victims is that they are innocent and vulnerable people trying to enjoy life. It’s all a bit mean spirited but, like I said, ducks in a row, undefined and unimportant. All the makers of Killing Ground wanted to actually portray was violence which brings me onto my next point.
Horror Cardinal Sin
There are plenty of people that would argue that nothing is off limits in horror and to some extent I agree. Where I don’t agree is when it comes to the depiction of rape of minors and violence to children. There is absolutely nothing that can bring to a movie that decent writing couldn’t replace. Killing Ground does both of these things in an indulgent and brutal fashion. It feels needless, it feels cruel, and it adds nothing to the movie. It is only there to shock because the creators can’t shock you in any other way.
On the other-hand, the violence here did get the makers of Killing Ground that tasty quote from Rolling Stone. Obviously I am being sarcastic; not for the faint-hearted? I don’t consider myself to be faint-hearted, just a decent person that would prefer to take his horror without a side of child rape and murder. There are other ways to shock without going to the lowest common denominator. It shows a lack of writing skill; and yes, I know this type of thing happens. I am aware of the reality of the situation but that doesn’t mean I want it in my horror movies.
There’s a part of me that genuinely believes that there is an unwritten code that means most horror creators will avoid excessive violence to children and rape of minors. You rarely see it in horror but it seems as though Killing Ground didn’t get the memo. There is one particular scene involving the child, Ollie, that, although not shown on screen, is totally unnecessary. I am perhaps risking spoiling certain things here but I can’t honestly review the movie without mentioning these issues I have with it.
Any Plus Points?
It’s not all bad. Cinematography is very nice. Australia is gorgeous and always makes for an amazing movie location. Acting is great throughout with not a bad performance in sight. Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glenane do a decent enough job with the psycho Australian Hillbilly roles.
The movie doesn’t entirely resort to some of the typical character tropes that so many horror movies do. Teenager Em, although reluctant to spend time camping, is actually a likable character that you have sympathy for. Em’s parents are nice enough and Ian and Samantha are nowhere near as annoying as most couples in these types of movies.. Bea and Paul from Honeymoon jump to mind when mentioning this, they annoy me so much. Sound production is spot on and pacing is mostly fine.
Although the separate plots could use a little more definition to make them stand out, it is an interesting way to do things. It is a shame they are both pretty boring and don’t exactly draw you in. Casting is great, everyone fits their roles perfectly. There is a nice change from the usual routine with one character who acts completely different to how you might expect given the situation. I won’t go into detail but I thought it was interesting to show how fallible people could be given the situation.
Killing Ground ends in an very unsatisfying manner leaving the fate of certain characters unanswered. I feel as though a whole bunch of horror movies did this at one point. It is almost as if the makers totally forgot about a character and left you to make the rest up yourself. After sitting through a laborious 80+ minutes of mundane writing and tasteless plot, you feel like you are owed an explanation.
That’s the best way to sum Killing Ground up. Pushing aside the needless violence, there is very little that actually happens, there is no feeling of suspense, and the last 10 minutes feel tacked on. The movie feels longer than its run time thanks to lengthy periods of nothing happening.
There are a large number of scenes that don’t need to be in the movie, an over eagerness to establish the bad guys, and plot elements that end up being completely inconsequential. Why do we need to know that Em has nightmares? It doesn’t factor into the plot in any way. Even Ian and Samantha’s engagement feels redundant. I know this sounds contrary to my complaints about a lack of character development but when the characters are lacking so much depth, why add these pointless details?
A little bit of tidying up and tightening of the plot would have gone a long way here. Take some of the redundant scenes out and replacing them with something that would have built the suspense would have gone a long way. We have a scene of the antagonists staring at a girl’s bum as she comes out of a shop and commenting on whether she is old enough to have sex with. This is needless, these guys are amoral throughout, we don’t need this confirming to us and the scene feels like self indulgent padding.
Is it a Knockout?
Not at all. I suppose if you like torture porn horror then Killing Ground could maybe fit the bill. If you want a minute of shock flanked by 80+ minutes of boredom then this may do the trick, I suppose. I am actually disappointed that there is so little to recommend as the acting performances are all really good and Australia is such a beautiful place that the movie can be a visual treat.
Aside from my own personal gripes with the themes of child violence and rape of minors, Killing Ground just doesn't offer anything as a horror movie. Everything it does has been done before only better. It gets brought up a lot but Eden Lake is a much better version of Killing Ground that works far better as a horror movie. It's tense, it's scary, and the chavs in the movie are a pretty spot on representation of real life chavs which makes it all the more real.
As always, this is just my opinion and you may want to satisfy your curiosity and check it out yourself. You might absolutely love it and it is worth mentioning that Killing Ground has a 71% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Then again, Last Jedi has 90% and people hated that. Opinions are like assholes; we all have one and they all stink at least some of the time.