Even before Jamie Kennedy articulated them in Scream, every novice knew there were rules to surviving a horror movie. Never have sex. Don’t drink or do drugs. Never say you’ll be right back. And blah, blah, blah. To the myriad of rules I’d add two more: 1) Never Go Camping and 2) Never Go To Australia.

Actually those rules are pretty good outside of horror movies too.

Let’s take camping. Why would anyone want to, choose to, leave the comfort of their house and it’s beds and sofas and plumbing, go to a field or a wood and sleep outside, on the ground, in a hastily constructed tent that offers little protection from the elements or marauding wildlife or passing asylum escapees, digging a hole and burying their own faeces like a cat? Who would do that when they don’t have to? Who would do it for pleasure? I mean, I can see the point, just about, if you’ve gone there to take acid and commune with nature. But even then, there’s probably a swing park closer to your house. Which brings me to point number two – Never Go To Australia.

Why would you? There’s a reason we used to send convicts there. Basically, everything in Australia, the Sun, the heat, the flora, the fauna, everything wants to kill you. Or fuck you. Or kill you and fuck you. Probably in that order. This is a country where deadly spiders hide in your toilet with the express intention of sinking their fangs into your unsuspecting genitals and pumping you full of enough venom to floor a Clydesdale pony. Recently, the Internet was ablaze with photos of some poor teenager who went for a paddle in Melbourne and the sea tried to eat him! Ok, they were tiny sea-bugs but still even the sea wants you to die horribly! And that’s before we even consider your average fair dinkum Aussie male, most of whom would give Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor a run for his money in the misogyny stakes. And those are just the ones over here. You’ve never known true horror until you’ve experienced the carnage of a Walkabout Inn in West London at 2am. Even their right-on, anti-authoritarian, social justice warriors end up spending years hiding from rape charges in an embassy cupboard. Is it any wonder their films are full of drooling, degenerate savages?

Bearing these two rules in mind then, I pretty much lost all sympathy for the unfortunate protagonists of Killing Ground who opt early on for the double whammy of not only going camping but going camping in Australia. How could you not expect that to end in tears and with your corpse being violated by some drongo named Chook?

Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) frankly, are idiots. Young and in love, they decide to go off and spend New Year’s Eve camping by a secluded lake in the middle of nowhere, Ian asking directions from not-at-all scary local hunter German (Aaron Pedersen).

Arriving at the campsite, they find an ominously vacant tent already set up but settle in for the evening anyway, Sam ominously commenting that there’s no mobile phone reception. No phone reception? In the middle of the Bush? How ominous. When their neighbours still haven’t appeared by the next morning, Ian and Sam start to get a little suspicious and investigate, discovering the interior of the tent has been trashed and there’s a vacant cot. Then a filthy and bloody toddler wanders from the woods and into their camp…

Intercut with this we watch the empty tent’s owners in the hours before Ian and Sam’s arrival – dad Rob (Julian Garner), mum Margaret (Maya Stange), and their two children, moody teenager Em (Tiarnie Coupland) and toddler/plot device Ollie, trying to enjoy their Christmas break despite worrying about Em’s reticence and her night terrors. Meanwhile the grizzled German is warning his twitchy mate Chook (Aaron Glenane) that he’d better keep it together as there’s no way he’s going back to prison for what they did…

While it’s clear early on that what we’re watching is three distinct intercut timelines which must inevitably and horrifically meet, Killing Ground substitutes any real sense of tension for a creeping empty dread. We know something bad has happened to the nice family camping on the beach from the first shot of their abandoned tent and we know who did it. What we don’t know is what happened, why it happened or why the Hell Ian and Sam would choose to camp just up the beach from THE OMINOUS EMPTY CAMP WHERE SOMETHING BAD HAS OBVIOUSLY TAKEN PLACE? Crucially, while we do find out what happened to the family, and it’s as brutal and upsetting as you’d expect, we’re never given an explanation why it happens, the only possible reason being that a spot of rape, torture and murder is just what any red-blooded Aussie male would do if he found a family camping in the wilderness. It’s also unclear why Ian and Sam do quite so many stupid things, not least of which is not just spending New Year in the City with friends like normal people.

The performances are strong for the most part with Meadows and Dyer likable enough when their characters aren’t being forehead-slappingly stupid and while it’s hard to care too much about the doomed family Coupland is particularly affecting but it’s the bad guys who drive the film, the glowering Pedersen, so good as the native cop in Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road, cast impressively against type while Glenane is a bundle of nervous energy who only really seems calm and at home in his skin when he’s hunting a defenceless woman through the Bush.

An impressive feature debut, writer/director Damien Power keeps the action tight, juggling his competing timelines effectively and once the bloodletting starts, doesn’t let up, wisely keeping the most exploitative acts offscreen, the almost casual murder of a naked, brutalised woman kept to the fringe of the frame feeling almost more brutal for it’s stark, offhand, minimalist mundanity but there’s a leering feel to much of the all-too-realistic violence that leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Much like Vegemite.

A nasty, brutish assault that feels like a rapey throwback to FrightFests Past, how much you like Killing Ground will depend on how much you enjoy other films like Killing Ground as there’s a sense of déjà vu all over again about it but it has a savage power that’s hard to deny. If nothing else, it should put the final nail in the coffin of the Aussie camping industry.

Horror Channel Frightfest Review: Killing Ground
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