Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around I talk with writer/director Damien Power about his new film KILLING GROUND. Further down, I’ll review the film, but first, here’s Damien to talk about the movie.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): In nutshell, how do you describe the premise of KILLING GROUND?
DAMIEN POWER (DP): It’s a survival thriller about a couple whose discovery of an abandoned tent in the woods sets off an ordeal that will test them to breaking point – and beyond.
BUG: What was the inspiration for this story?
DP: The idea first occurred as an image of an abandoned orange tent, which led me to ask the question: what happened to the campers? This suggested a story. I wanted to tap into my experience of feeling alone and isolated when I’ve been camping. A tent is a thin barrier between you and the rest of the world. There’s a lot of my fears in there: Would I be able to protect my family if we were threatened? The film asks the viewer: What would you do in the same situation? There are no easy answers.
BUG: I have always wanted to visit Australia, but films like this one and the WOLF CREEK films have me second guessing my plans. What is it about the outback that makes it such a great atmosphere for horror?
DP: I can’t see KILLING GROUND playing on the inbound QANTAS flight! The film is part of a long tradition of Australian cinema that explores white Australians' sense of unease in the bush from PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK to WOLF CREEK. The outback is fertile ground for horror because we don’t understand it, so it seems hostile and isolating. A stark contrast to Australian Indigenous peoples who have lived in harmony with the land for many thousands of years.
BUG: They say working with kids and animals are two of the most difficult things to do in film. You worked with both here. Was it as difficult as they say?
DP: Yes it was. The pig proved particularly stubborn. But as long as you’re asking a child or an animal to do something within their capacity you’ll be okay – you just have to be patient and flexible. They’re not working to your script or your schedule.
BUG: The antagonists of this film do some horrible things to these camping couples. How did you prepare your actors, both playing protagonists and antagonists, for such horrific acts that are taking place?
DP: I tried to create a safe space for the actors to shoot these scenes. They’re difficult emotionally and can also be difficult technically (tricky camera setups, stunts and practical effects and just being outside exposed to the elements). I made sure that the crew gave the actors the space they needed to work. Every actor has a different process and part of my job was to remain sensitive to their needs.
BUG: You play around with time in this film. What lead you to do this?
DP: I wanted to tell the story of all the events that took place in the woods, and let the audience spend some time with the protagonists, the campers and the antagonists before things go bad. The fractured flashback / parallel narrative structure brings the past back to life before our eyes. It is the story of what happened to the campers – but in the present tense of cinema, it’s also the story of what is happening to the campers. This – and the allusions to a past massacre – contribute to an atmosphere of timelessness and a feeling that this violence is always happening, now and forever. Survival thrillers are usually relentlessly linear. I wanted to try something different. I thought the non-linear structure would make the audience more actively involved in the storytelling – while slowly raising their anxiety.
BUG: If you were required to make a sequel to this film, what would you do with it? A story about a feral kid raised by a dog in the outback? A story about the survivors’ irrational fear of tents? What are your thoughts on this?
DP: It’d be a prequel centered around the antagonists, Chook and German. There’s already a TV adaptation in the works!
BUG: You've done short films in the past. How much of a change was it for you to take on a full length feature film for KILLING GROUND?
DP: The filmmaking is the same, but a feature film is an endurance test like no other. The production became its own survival story (torrential rain, run-ins with a local arsonist, shooting next to an army base conducting live fire exercises) – with a happier ending.
BUG: What's next for you?
DP: Apart from the TV adaptation, I have a few film projects in the works including a feature adaptation of my short PEEKABOO (you can watch that short film here) and a teen horror/thriller.
BUG: Last chance, why should my readers take a chance and check out KILLING GROUND coming to theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight on July 21st?
DP: If you enjoy being scared, you’ll like KILLING GROUND - it’s an intense experience. If you like challenging films, it’s for you. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is a fresh take on a classic story. KILLING GROUND will shred your nerves, hit you in the gut and give you plenty to think about after the credits roll.
BUG: KILLING GROUND is in select theaters and On Demand now from IFC Midnight! Below is my review of the film.
New in select theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight!
KILLING GROUND (2016)Directed by Damien Power
Written by Damien Power
Starring Harriet Dyer, Tiarnie Coupland, Aaron Pedersen, Maya Stange, Stephen Hunter, Aaron Glenane, Ian Meadows, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Airlie Dodds, Julian Garner, Tara Jade Borg, Mark Gadaleta, Michael Knott, Liam Parkes, Riley Parkes
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While KILLING GROUND treads on familiar territory, some creative twists to the narrative and some solid performances make it worth delving into.
The film begins following an engaged couple happy and planning to go on a dream camping trip in the outback. After stopping for directions, they find the perfect camping spot with only one other tent in the vicinity. Meanwhile, over in the other tent, a family happily goes about their business. Neither party knows that there are a pair of hunters in the woods looking for human prey.
If you’ve seen WOLF CREEK, you know better than to go camping in the outback. And that’s pretty much the same message these scurvy hunters are trying to communicate to those seeking outdoors adventures in this film. But what makes the film feel different is the way it is set up. Without revealing too much, director Damien Power plays around with the timeline here. So the film really is two simultaneous stories going on at once. Interlocking these two stories is where the nuance of the film really shines as it isn’t clear that the story jumps around in time until it’s too late. This makes KILLING GROUND one of the more unpredictable and surprising wilderness survival films I’ve seen in a while.
I also appreciate the level of real violence going on here. Because the hunters are so bloodthirsty and reactionary, it really feels that the conventional rules of horror films don’t apply to this one and everyone—even the young toddler in the group, is in real danger. Those with small children might be gritting their teeth towards the scenes where a toddler is left to fend for himself in the middle of the forest and while there is nothing gratuitous that happens to him, it still is more ballsy than most stuff you see in mainstream films. The violence level is quite high with KILLING GROUND as it lives up to its name in spades. Again, there’s a gritty and unpredictable nature that most films simply don’t have.
So while the setting and scurviness of the baddies are going to feel very WOLF CREEK/MAD MAX-y, the dangerous feel to KILLING GROUND and the twiddling Powers does with the story makes this one stand out from the pack.
Ambush Bug is M. L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on MLMillerWrites.com.
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