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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WRONG TURN 6: LAST RESORT – How Low Can a Franchise Go?

Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort. 2014. Directed by Valeri Milev. Screenplay by Frank H. Woodward.
Starring Anthony Ilott, Chris Jarvis, Aqueela Zoll, Sadie Katz, Rollo Skinner, Billy Ashworth, Harry Belcher, Joe Gaminara, Roxanne Pallett, Radoslav Paravanov, Danko Jordanov, Asen Asenov, and Kicker Robinson. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Rated R. 91 minutes. Horror.


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The shipwreck which was Declan O’Brien at the helm of several Wrong Turn sequels has finally stopped.
With Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort, the reins of the franchise has been handed over to Valeri Milev.
Though I’ve not seen anything by Milev before, I’ve wanted to get a look at his film from 2013 called Re-Kill. However, if this is any indication, I’m not holding my breath on it being something spectacular. The sixth film in this series is not the worst, certainly not, but it’s not good in any way either.
While some of the gore works, and this instalment isn’t hellbent on the awful CGI which plagued O’Brien, there is a serious lapse in the series logic when it comes to the characters and the setting, and in turn the whole plot itself. Not to mention, Milev is far more intent than O’Brien even was in his tenure as director to bring more nudity and sex into the movies. I’m not afraid of a bit of nudity in horror, there are plenty of solid horror films that do have nudity in them, but the only purpose these Wrong Turn films have had, especially those O’Brien directed, to use nudity is simply to try and keep people interested, or to perhaps they truly try and skew towards the male demographic. Either way, there are a ton of problems with this movie, just as much as some of the other entries in the franchise overall.
775689_3Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort throws so much of the little sense that exists in the franchise out the window.
Danny (Anthony Ilott) finds out, suddenly, that he has an inheritance waiting for him at the Hobb Springs Resort. He and his girlfriend Toni (Aqueela Zoll), Bryan (Joe Gaminara), Jillian (Roxanne Pallett), Vic (Rollo Skinner), Rod (Billy Ashworth), and Charlie (Harry Belcher) head out to the backwoods for the old hotel.
Of course, lurking in the hills of West Virginia as always are the three brothers: Saw Tooth (Danko Jordanov), Three Finger (Radoslav Parvanov), and One Eye (Asen Asenov). They continue to kill, maim, eat.
At the Hobb Springs Resort, Danny and his friends are greeted by brother and sister creepy duo, Sally (Sadie Katz) and Jackson (Chris Jarvis). The pair are hospitable, if not a little strange. Soon, though, an older vacationer at the resort goes missing. Sheriff Doucette (Kicker Robinson) asks them to keep a look out, pass around a flyer to see if anyone can help find the woman. However, she is long gone – probably chopped up for dinner by the inbred brothers.
Eventually, Bryan begins to discover things about the Hobb Springs Resort, terrifying, dark secrets, and things for him, as well as his friends, will never ever be the same.
44138475782283658387_zps233ae9e3.jpg~originalSo one of my initial beefs happens quickly.
Beginning with the last Wrong Turn entry, there’s this dumb trend of opening the movie with a “clever” (I use that in the lightest sense) way of using the dead/severed bodies of the brothers’ victims to give the number of the sequel. So, for Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, it was a severed hand that opened up with its five fingers stretched underneath the title. Now we get Roman numerals all of a sudden – probably because the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a way to plausibly get two hands to show 6 fingers without it looking clumsy. As if it made any differences: two bodies fall roughly in the shape of VI to help us spell out Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort. Just one of the reasons this sequel is another bad one.
6-wrong-turn-last-resortWhen the old woman gets killed, it is so bad. An axe gets tossed at full-force and not only does it throw her back to the wall, it apparently lifts her a foot off the ground before pinning her to it. I mean – it’s almost as bad as the opening kill in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, which I found to be too over-the-top. Again it’s not like I’m looking for a level of total realism from these movies, but there’s also got to be a degree of logic in some senses. There’s enough brutality in these movies that it can still be effective without having to get cartoonish.
dbce6a2db2c67958515d1c7912507b88My biggest problem with this one is a combination of things.
First of all, I find Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort to be, by far, the most sexualized of all the sequels. Declan O’Brien started this, albeit only subtly, in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead. Even though I personally found the 4th film, Bloody Beginnings, to be better than most, he still got worse with it in that one; right from the opening scenes. Then the 5th went the same. Now, it seems like director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward were intent on making sexuality a large aspect of this story. Some horror benefits from an angle of sexuality – most recently, It Follows uses the premise of sexual encounters to head into very interesting territory, and a few of my favourite classics from David Cronenberg such as VideodromeShivers, and Rabid all have sexual elements yet they work to serve a purpose.
Second, I just can’t get past the jumbled nonsense that the Wrong Turn series has become. Starting with the last sequel, Bloodlines, there has been a serious neglect of logic in regards to the characters of these films. I know this is not meant to be expertly crated horror like something you might expect from Rosemary’s Baby. All the same, you’d think they would try to keep the logic together.
I mean, how does this sister-brother combo of Sally and Jackson even fit in? Where did they come from? My understanding, especially from what’s discussed in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, is that the effects of inbreeding only got worse and worse with each round of procreation in the family. It doesn’t make any sense to me that Jackson and Sally look normal. How are they not raving lunatics just like One Eye, Saw Tooth, and Three Finger? My problem in the last movie was the character of Maynard, and how he was seemingly able to coral the three brothers with a combination of a dominant attitude and physical violence, yet the brothers are supposed to inbred, unruly, wild, and immune to pain!? It just makes no sense, whether someone is supposedly part of the ‘family’ or not, that the three brothers allow themselves to be harnessed and controlled into doing what some third party wants.
Still, it makes no sense how Sally and Jackson are the only two normal, and actually attractive, people between the clans of hillbillies. Then there’s Danny, of course, who they’re trying to lure into the family tradition of brother-sister-cousin fucking, and Danny looks as normal as anybody. These inbred brothers have been around since 1974 – that’s what we know from Bloody Beginnings and its opening scene – so where did these branches of the family come from and how did none of them turn out to look like the brothers? We clearly see there are others involved in these so-called clans, later in the movie, and they’re all haggard, too! So it’s just ridiculous to have these two good looking actors there in the middle of it meant to be part of an inbred cannibal family. Too much suspension of disbelief in this case.
In a Q&A over at Fangoria, screenwriter Frank Woodward actually said he likes where there can be a big world in a story where so many other smaller stories can be told. Unfortunately, Mr. Woodward went too wide with this one and forgot to try and link things together. If perhaps there were some other chains binding Last Resort with the other 5 films, even the last terrible one, then maybe it would have worked a little better. Instead there is a tenuous connection to the series as a whole, and after that takes hold I find it hard to enjoy much else in the movie.
WrongTurn2I can give this a 1 out of 5 stars. Honestly, I know some people think I’m nuts for enjoying Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings the way I do, even though that’s only a 2.5/5 stars for me, not much better than this one. However, at least – for all its bad acting – the 4th film went for the prequel angle, we got to see the brothers before the initial events of the first Wrong Turn film, and it really started to setup a mythos of its own as a franchise, in my opinion. I actually couldn’t stand the 3rd movie, Left for Dead, but I liked that even more than I could enjoy Last Resort. Most of the other movies in this series suffer from poor written – varying degrees, but all suffer from the same symptoms. The problem I have with Last Resort is that it totally fumbles the logic of its own series, as was the case in the last entry, and I can’t get past that. I’m able to get past it enough to rate it better than Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, because at least this one had a few good gory moments; that last one was just off-the-wall nonsensical in too many ways.
Either way I cut it, this to me is definitely one of the poorer entries in the series. It pushes way too hard to sexualize the horror, including straight up naked women getting cut up, and to me that’s a staple of 1980s horror I’m not a fan of – I’ve explained this enough already, just does not serve a purpose for me in horror. There are other movies in the genre I do enjoy that have nudity, but they at least back things up with actual terror, some better writing, and decent acting – some of these Wrong Turn movies, especially this one, go too hard for the boobs and blood. I’m not into it. That, coupled with a lack of sense in the screenplay, really makes for an awful film.
I’ll never ever watch this again unless someone kidnaps me and forces it upon me, even then I’d fight like hell. These last two in the series have been just downright garbage. For good backwoods horror maybe check out a classic like Just Before Dawn, or a less horror-ish effort of backwoods survival in Southern Comfort or my favourite of that genre, the obvious choice, Deliverance.

Another one of these on the way for 2017? Oh mercy. I’ll see you then, and we can talk about how awful that might be. Though, I always wait to judge for myself. Maybe someone can breathe life into a series that once had potential, but has long since been ravaged – mostly by Declan O’Brien, now Valeri Milev has joined in on the assault. No idea who will be directing the next one. You can be sure it won’t be anyone too familiar, or maybe they’ll choose someone from the previous pool of directors. Jesus, we’ll see…..