Festival director BRIONY KIDD previews the new Australian film, Killing Ground, which has its Tasmanian premiere at the Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival this weekend.
Anyone who’s seen Damien Power’s excellent short film Peekaboo will be excited to learn that his debut feature has begun its festival run. Killing Ground is a finely crafted tale with an awareness of the traditions of the horror genre, in a filmmaking sense and in the broader context of Australian Gothic. Its stellar cast presents us with a familiar set-up… A nice young couple (Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows) head to a remote campground to spend New Year’s. When they stop for supplies they get directions from a couple of shifty blokes with a ute (Aaron Glenane and Aaron Pederson), obviously never having watched this kind of film themselves. Rule number 1: Once you’ve let slip to the eccentric locals exactly which deserted spot you’re on your way to….don’t go there.
But the least said about the plot the better really, suffice it to say that danger awaits…. and our couple, Ian and Sam, learn a lot about themselves and each other along the way. They also encounter a holidaying family, Margaret (Maya Strange) and Rob (Julian Garner), their teenage daughter (Tiarnie Coupland) and their toddler son. Eventually survival becomes the name of the game for all, and even the toddler isn’t safe from the consequences of his parents ill-advised sojourn into unfamiliar territory.
Bringing to mind the paintings of Frederick McCubbin (lost children being a favourite theme) and making reference to the iconic stories of Barbara Baynton, Power’s screenplay thoughtfully handles what could have been hackneyed material. Directing wise, small idiosyncrasies of character are rewarding, and there’s a deft sense of pace. Simon Chapman’s cinematography is graceful and skilled in its use of natural light to create an atmosphere of nostalgia and menace.
Of particular interest is a device that sees the story intercutting between characters in different timeframes occupying the same space. This brings to mind the title of the film, which surely has to do with a reference one of the characters makes to an Aboriginal massacre in the area in the 1800s. Whether the film’s commentary on race runs deep or gender issues come more to the fore is perhaps in the eye of the beholder‚ but will inspire some lively post-screening conversation.
Horror has the potential to no only tap into primal fears (and Killing Ground certainly has that covered) but to examine societal ruptures; collective guilt and the like. In that sense, this film fits the traditions of Australian genre going back to Wake in Fright (1971), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Long Weekend (1977). These film ponder the question: what should the white Australian fear most; the wildness of the landscape or the corruption and violence of humanity? Killing Ground doesn’t leave us in much doubt on that score but it’s not all bleak. As much as it examines destructive impulses, it also looks at the nature of courage. Barbara Baynton wrote about the stoicism and strength of women, and her insights have not been forgotten here.