In the time-honored genre of survival thrillers, Killing Ground stands above many others as a clever and worthy film by writer/director Damien Walker. It features effective and poetic story-telling, taking the audience along for a ride in terror and tense atmosphere, while never breaking it’s steady and unrelenting pace. It is thrilling and unique, exploring the darker side of human nature as well as the choices a person must make when fear takes hold and lives are on the line.
The film opens with a familiar premise. An attractive urban couple, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) are driving to a rustic camping destination. With a few quick minutes of dialogue, the pair establish themselves as a smart and relatable young couple. As they arrive in a small town outside their camping area, they make a quick stop to pick up a bottle of bubbly and Ian approaches a local man for advice on directions. This local, called German (Aaron Pedersen) gently recommends they take a different route due to bad road conditions. Even in this simple interaction, Walker begins to plant the seeds of unrest and tension in the story. German seems helpful enough, but something isn’t right with him. It’s subtle, but powerful and even as the movie continues, you are left off balance about how to feel after the interaction. This is what makes this movie unique. While the basic premise and overall plot don’t offer anything that horror fans haven’t seen before, the unveiling of events is beautifully and artistically done. The audience is given small and sometimes misleading tidbits of information and with purposeful patience. It entices a powerful sense of curiosity which I found surprising and delightful. The stakes climb ever higher as the story moves on, and I found myself enraptured and emotionally committed by the end of the first act. It’s a brilliantly crafted and intensely spine-tingling slow burn experience.
Speaking of intensity, this is a complex film and is not just a spooky jaunt in the woods. Characters are challenged to make difficult decisions, in life-threatening circumstances. Sam and Ian’s relationship undergoes the ultimate compatibility test as they each implement different tactics to survive their camping trip gone awry. Sam is brave and protective, while Ian is calculating and plays it safe. Both are in over their heads when compared to the villains and must think on their feet in extreme circumstances. The murderous bad guys are opportunistic criminals who have no qualms using people as their playthings. They are in their element out in the woods and they won’t hesitate to use their hunting skills on innocent victims. Be warned that the plot includes child endangerment/abuse and the implied rape of a minor. This is not a film for children, period.
Thanks to the talented actors cast in Killing Ground, the characters feel real and the actors enrich the viewer’s immersion in the story. The performances are solid and gracefully underplayed. Most of the movie’s cast is made up of seasoned television actors and their experience shows. The stand out performance goes to Aaron Glenane as Chook. He does a great job as the impulsive woodsman, depicting the all the icky convictions of a man of his sort. It must not have been a joyful role to play, but he commits to it with true talent and gravitas. Well done!
Gripping and delicately layered, Killing Ground is a film for horror buffs that appreciate craftmanship and stark tales of survival. Gratefully side-stepping the clichés of this genre, audiences instead are treated to story-telling with integrity that lacks superfluous embellishments. Celebrated at Sundance Film Festival and coming to VOD on July 21st, thanks to IFC Midnight, it’s a must-see for genre lovers!
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The Diva Del Mar