Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Damien Power's crackerjack -- but extremely ugly -- survival thriller, KILLING GROUND

As much as I am in awe of KILLING GROUND -- which is the best film of this particular sub-genre (lovers-go-camping-and must-suddenly-fight-for-their lives) that TrustMovies has yet seen -- I am somewhat loathe to recommend it unless I also say that, as frightening and thrilling as it is, it's also one of the most matter-of-fact ugly movies I have ever seen. Now, it is nowhere near the bloodiest nor goriest of this genre. In fact, there is about as little of all that as could be imagined, considering what happens here.

And yet in this, his first full-length film after a slew of shorts, writer/director Damien Power (shown at left) has managed to get just about everything right. This would include the ability to engage us with his characters (all of them, good and evil); build suspense and atmosphere in equally deft, quick strokes; rouse simply superb performances from everyone on screen (including a near-infant and a dog); and then, once the tension he's created has reached its peak and the plot's "explosion" has occurred, see to it that we're practically unable to take a breath until those final credits start to roll. The filmmaker even manages to lay out his tale using past and present in a way that keeps us unnerved and guessing until that aforementioned explosion of violence takes place, making inevitable all that follows.

The movie of which Killing Ground may most remind you would be Eden Lake, the James Watkins 2008 survival thriller starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender. This one is even better, more sophisticated in both its construction and execution, and equally unnerving and thrilling. Also, the filmmaker thankfully refrains from making us view a lot of the horror that happens. This will displease torture-porn connoisseurs. Yet the scenario itself is so full of irredeemable ugliness that I can't imagine anyone accusing Mr. Power of being too prissy.

Our lead characters are a couple who is, from the sound of things, thinking about getting hitched fairly soon. He (the fine Ian Meadows, above) is a doctor, and she (an even better Harriet Dyer, below) is -- hmmm... I am not even sure I know or remember what occupation she has (other than trying to stay alive). They arrive at their camping destination to discover another tent pitched ahead of theirs. Yet no one is in it, so the couple expects to see and meet their "neighbors" fairly soon.

The villains of the piece are two men (Aaron Pedersen, below, right, and Aaron Glenane, below, left) who are revealed along the way as Outback psychopaths (the setting here is Australia). Their behavior grows crazier as the movie rolls along, but that behavior also cannot be discounted because, as nutty as it gets, it still unfortunately seems to fit these truly frightening and unpredictable characters all too well.

While our hero and heroine would seem no match for these two men, the latter's very oddness and plentiful kinks play into what happens and why. There is another entire set of characters, too, and these -- a father, his relatively new bride, their barely out of infancy child, and his daughter (Tiarnie Coupland, below) from an earlier marriage -- bring the past into the present, while giving the movie its ugliest charge.

That's it for plot, so as not to provide any more spoilers. The film, by the way, is highly feminist -- in its own non-showy way. So if you're partial to suspense, creeping dread, and edge-of-your-seat thrills, you could hardly do better than Killing Ground. But, yikes: You've been warned.

From IFC Midnight and running a sleek 88 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, July 21, in New York City at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinelounge Sunset. If you're near neither city, despair not: The movie simultaneously hits VOD nationwide.

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