KILLING GROUND is a Fierce & Frighteningly Human Survival Thriller

Killing Ground. 2017. Directed & Written by Damien Power.
Starring Tiarnie Coupland, Harriet Dyer, Aaron Pedersen, Stephen Hunter, Aaron Glenane, Maya Strange, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Ian Meadows, Julian Garner, & Tara Jade Borg.
Hypergiant Films/Arcadia
Rated R. 88 minutes.

Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
KILLINGGROUND3The first feature film from Damien Power, Killing Ground, comes disguised as a survival horror-thriller we’ve all seen before, in which a happy couple camping in the wilderness come upon the scene of a grisly murder, only to be caught in the cross-hairs of the killer. While other well known entries in the survival horror sub-genre both start and end how we expect, Power gives his film extra power in his method of storytelling, as well as with unexpected characters and the surprising plot. Not to mention he conveys the story’s brutality without resorting to showing anything overly graphic, nevertheless illustrating a central theme: man is a worse beast than any animal.
When lovers Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) head out to a beach in the middle of the bush, they setup their tent next to a family’s campsite, though nobody seems to be around. As time passes no one returns, and the couple become suspicious. At the same time we watch events from the days prior, discovering exactly where the family from the campsite have ended up and what’s become of them.
Like an Aussie Deliverance, yet somehow even more devoid of hope, Power’s Killing Ground pulls no punches. In 88 slick minutes, the story of Sam and Ian and the other campers collide in a brutal, tense exercise in terror. By telling the story in sections moving from the young couple to the other group of campers, and further segues to some local hunters, Power amplifies the tension as we hurtle toward a savage climax that manages to elicit dread without feeling the need to be cheap and nasty.
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Power could’ve easily made a by-the-numbers thriller. Likewise, it wouldn’t have been hard to fall into a trap of exploitative filmmaking. Killing Ground does go for the jugular, it just doesn’t do it the same as every other thriller of its ilk. There are a few instances of downright cruelty, but the power of the film’s horror is built foremost on the way the story’s told.
The immediate focus is on Sam and Ian, an endearing, normal couple. As we get to know them we’re also introduced to the family from the now abandoned beach campsite, a day or so prior to current events. In between these two main plots is a view into the lives of two deadbeat local hunters. Power weaves the three plots together, creating a particularly tense storm of events; a storm we see coming. It’s the fact we do see a horrific confrontation coming down the line which allows such palpable fright to set in slowly.
The storytelling puts the audience directly in Sam and Ian’s shoes. They sit on the beach by the abandoned campsite, not knowing where the people are, while the audience gradually becomes aware of the what the other campers have experienced. This feeling rises to an unbearable boiling point. When Power finally snaps the tension, the film’s climax and finale play like any camping aficionado’s worst nightmare. Best of all, it’s not ham-fisted how other similarly themed films play out, opting for something more unsettling than jump scares and explicit gore.
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There are two huge reasons why Killing Ground is so effective. First, a large part of why the film works as a whole are the characters; they’re not archetypal, instead they’re interesting and at times unpredictable. Sam and Ian aren’t a couple with dark secrets hidden from one another, in fact the young couple specifically go on a journey that exposes things about themselves they never actually knew in the first place. They are real, three-dimensional. Same as the local hunters, whose depressingly real socioeconomic situation feels more unsettling than that of nameless, faceless villains in the woods in other survival movies. As all the characters and their paths merge, the tension is fed by the audience’s investment in these people.
Once Power has the audience gripped in the lives of the characters, and after we’ve discovered more of the plot of the camping family, he sets about grinding us down with pure terror. However, it’s how he executes the horror of his story which sets the film apart from many in the sub-genre. For instance, there’s a nasty element of sexual assault hovering over certain scenes. Even in the gruelling moments Power opts to leave most of the physical horror either off-screen, suggested, or not the prime focus of the camera’s lens. In a way, not seeing certain moments intensifies their impact.
It’s amazing how heavy the savagery feels in the moments that do include violence, considering how relatively little we see. Most of the on-screen blood depicted is after the fact of death; there are no slasher-type scenes where blood and gore flies, knives enter skin, so on. Another significant portion of horror comes out in the portrayal of humanity amongst the various characters. It isn’t solely about the evil men do, it also involves what men won’t do, and also the evil they’re not willing or able to stop.KILLINGGROUNDCOVEROne of the hunters owns a dog, whom he takes hunting often. But in the context of the plot’s events, the hunter unleashes the dog in an effort to help him and his hunting buddy in their villainy. The interesting part is that the dog won’t hurt any humans; clearly evident in a scene where the dog sits protecting a victim left in the woods by the hunters. The dog, though only visible at a few points, parallels human beings; particularly to men. The audience gains a further, devastating sense of Ian’s character through the dog, too.
There comes a moment when Ian makes a decision ultimately giving us the verdict of his character as a person, not simply one in a movie. This makes a statement on his own personal nature as a human being, on his tendency of fight or flight. Sam interprets his decision in an honourable way: after one hunter tosses the campsite family’s baby in the woods and leaves it for dead, she believes Ian has left her alone to save the child. Later, we see the hunter’s dog with the injured infant, standing guard in the woods in case anybody comes near. Again, men and animals are juxtaposed, with the dog coming out on top as the more honourable creature.
One of the major differences about this film compared to other survival movies is its ending and how it speaks to human nature. Whereas many of these movies conclude on a totally dark note, others finish with optimism as the hero, or heroes, overcome their would-be killers and triumph. Somewhere amongst the middle is Killing Ground. The end sits somewhere halfway: it isn’t dark, but the conclusion for the heroes is left on a bittersweet note. They’re not entirely filled with hope. Rather, they’ve learned things about themselves, some of which isn’t exactly positive. When the film finishes there are tough questions left to be answered. The heroic characters are safe from the danger of villains, though they remain in the line of fire of their own criticism for how they chose to act in the face of that danger.
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The reality of Killing Ground is perhaps why it feels so intense, and surely one of the reasons it succeeds in touching a nerve with its horror. All the characters involved go through a journey, they are left irreparably changed by their experiences throughout the plot, by its consequences and revelations. Choices are made with which the characters must live, or else their lives will never be the same. Instead of going for cheap, easy scares, Power aims for the heart and digs in deep with an 88-minute film fuelled by an oppressive psychological horror with glimpses of real human monstrosity.
A powerful horror-thriller, whether it goes for the physical nastiness, is built on a director’s ability to tell the story with interest. Power’s film is steadily paced, so much so the entire thing turns on a dime becoming utterly horrifying with a single shot of Sam walking a wooded trail, a blurred, unexpected figure in the background. He doesn’t need to resort to a jump scare, blood flicking from a machete as it hacks its victim. With one shot he provides more frights than some other directors can offer with an entire film.
Killing Ground slow burns the nerves to gristle. It’s a relentlessly suffocating piece of work that’s impressive for a feature film debut. From the opening, subtle credits sequence of shots lingering on desolate wilderness and an abandoned campsite, there’s an immediate sense of dread that never once lets up for a second. Writer-director Damien Power turned what in other hands would’ve been a tired rehash of tropes into something with lasting, unsettling power, one that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Deliverance, Southern Comfort, the newer Eden Lake, and other now classic survival movies.

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Fear of Invasion in Predator

Predator. 1987. Directed by John McTiernan. Screenplay by Jim Thomas & John Thomas.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, & Shane Black. Amercent Films/American Entertainment Partners L.P./Davis Entertainment.
Rated R. 107 minutes.
Action/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★
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There are 1980s films. Then there are quintessential ’80s films. Such is the case with Predator. It boasts one of those awesome casts that makes things work incredibly well, mostly due to the fact Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura are each enjoyable to see on camera; but they’re just the icing on the cake. The writing has got plenty of that ’80s charm with cheesy one-liners that would never survive outside the decade (“I aint got time to bleed“). There’s a ton of kick ass action that spreads from science fiction to horror in the one breath. And it’s the sci-fi aspect that’s so damn fun.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences a good helping of action in the course of his career. He’s made Die Hard and Die Hard: With a Vengeance, as well as The Hunt for Red October, and also the criminally underrated adaptation of Michael Crichton’s The 13th Warrior. But above it all reigns this 1987 science fiction action-horror masterpiece. Playing on a collective fear of the unknown re: intelligent life out in space, McTiernan’s Predator puts a bunch of military men in the way of the titular intergalactic hunters, pitting the toughest of the tough against an entity far scarier, far more nasty than any of them.
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Our first glimpse of the Predator’s thermal vision scanner is actually chilling. It has this starkly contrasted feeling, and the sounds, the thumping of the heartbeats, makes things even more unsettling. Best of all, the men don’t know they’re being watched. So the voyeurism of this Predator as he susses out the group and their possible weaknesses is a scary element. He watches, waits, stalks. They are his prey. Quickly, we’re introduced to the abilities of this space hunter and the advantages his technology give him.
And that leads into part of why I love Predator. If you’re the kind that likes reading deep into a film, even if it’s action, then let’s get going! See, to my mind, the idea of these Predators out there, coming from another planet and meeting head-on with these military men, the mercenary-types, it speaks to the uniquely American fear of being conquered. Being dominated. Being bent to the will of a power stronger than oneself. The idea that these super hunters could go up against our best, the military-trained men with every skill for battle imaginable, this shatters any notion of superiority.
Then again, it’s just a movie about an alien killing a bunch of dudes, right?
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Setting this in the jungle was a stroke of genius. The locations look absolutely incredible. Much of the cinematography in general is pretty good, too. Donald McAlpine does a solid job capturing different aspects of the film – from the horror to the action to the more sci-fi elements. He takes us from the action oriented battles to the close-up, fearful conversations of the men as they hide in the bush from the Predator. The suspense is always present. The horror always just around the corner. Together with McAlpine is the talented composed Alan Silvestri, whose music can be heard in everything from Who Framed Roger Rabbit to Forrest Gump to The Avengers. His score really amps up the energy,  the suspense, and breaks the tension in all the right places. The orchestral score flares up in wild moments of action. Its strings lay just beneath the conversations of the men as they try and figure out how to proceed against their unseen threat. Adding McAlpine’s cinematography with the downright fucking amazing score out of Silvestri, all the genre elements are aided with a thick atmosphere of dread and uncertainty.
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On one hand, Arnold is not a good actor; at all. On the other, he is a great action star. Contradiction? Nah. He’s got the looks, the big hulking frame and muscles, there is a quiet intensity about him almost all the time. He’s got charisma, his charm is undeniable. Plus, he can do the action, he can perform some stunts and give authenticity to the term ‘action star’. So who better to lead Predator? In addition to Ahh-nold, we’re also given some Carl Weathers, whose performance is fairly enjoyable. Then Jesse The Body – he pops off a truly hilarious and unfortunately homophobic line early on, but makes up for it with typical ’80s nonsense dialogue that’s so perfect to keep things fun. The cast was never going to win any Oscars. Although, they work well as an ensemble, they’re all pretty ripped which lends itself to their being military men and hardcore mercenaries, so that’s the best McTiernan needed for the action and the thrills provided.
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Excitement. Suspense. Greasy biceps. Blood. Brutal alien killers. Arnold covered in mud, kicking a little alien ass. Predator is a big 4-star action extravaganza. It has the right amount of everything to make this one of the best of the 1980s. The science fiction and horror aspects of the screenplay really helped this become a favourite amongst fans. Because action movies are meant to be Rated R. So why not give fans of the sci-fi and horror genres a dose of action they can enjoy? Turns out, everyone enjoyed it.
For all its flaws and missteps, Predator‘s appeal is undeniable, it is long lasting, and as long as there are action-science fiction hybrids, this will remain a proven classic.