J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sundance ’17: Killing Ground

You know Australian psycho-stalkers just aren’t what they used to be when a victim gets away from Mick Taylor in the Wolf Creek TV show. As problematically sadist as the original films were, there was no denying John Jarratt’s distinctive screen presence. German and Chook just can’t compare, except perhaps in the violence they unleash on-screen in Tasmanian-native Damien Power’s Killing Ground, which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

Sam and her doctor fiancé Ian decide to spend New Year’s Eve camping in his favorite spot for reasons that will utterly mystify regular horror movie viewers. On the way, the seedy looking German (with the requisite snarling attack dog) recommends another campsite, but Ian’s heart is set on their original destination. They are bummed out to find another tent already pitched there, but at least they are quiet—too quiet. By the time they mosey on over, viewers know the family in question has met a grisly fate at the hands of German and less cautious protégé Chook. Throughout the first act, Power cross-cuts between Sam and in Ian in the film’s now and the ill-fated family of aging hippy Rob, his wife Margaret, their moody teen daughter Em, and their toddler Ollie a few days in the past, just to make Grounds look more ambitious than it really is.

Just to give viewers fair warning, Ollie’s grisly fate plays a pivotal role in the film, so yeah, good times. Frankly, there are so many legitimately clever and surprising indie horror films getting produced today, it makes watching a grinder like Ground rather depressing in comparison.

Still, the cast is quite strong, especially Harriet Dyer as Sam. Although he is no Jarratt, Pederson is certainly an effectively silent, surly, anti-social sadist. It should also be stipulated in all due fairness, the peculiar stresses Power inflicts on Sam’s relationship with Dr. Ian represent a bit of a fresh spin on the gruesome genre material. However, that hardly makes the film any more entertaining to watch.

This is really straight, no chaser Aussies exploitation. If that is your thing, this is your film. For the rest of us, it is mostly just a downer. There are better, fresher genre films out there. Only for grindhouse diehards, Killing Ground screens again this afternoon (1/21) and Thursday night (1/26) in Park City and tonight (1/21) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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