Debuting at Sundance this weekend, Killing Ground tells the story of Ian and Samantha, a young couple who arrive at an isolated campsite for a weekend getaway, only to find an abandoned SUV and an abandoned tent. As night falls and the campers fail to return, Ian and Sam grow increasingly uneasy. When they discover a distressed child wandering in the woods, the young couple unwittingly find themselves in the midst of a terrifying chain of events that will test them to their breaking point.
Written and directed by Damien Power, Killing Ground is a striking and ambitious film, especially considering that this is his feature-length debut. By unravelling the story through a fractured narrative, Power manages to both honor and subvert many of the tropes that inherently come within other ‘campers in the woods’ thrillers. By splitting the narrative into three distinct but intersecting pieces, Power allows himself to reveal information to the viewer without forced exposition. In doing so, he is able to continue to develop an element of mystery into the story for the key players, but also providing enough insight to the audience.
In addition to its unique style, Killing Ground also offers us some truly memorable performances by its cast, and especially its villains, Chook (Aaron Glenane) and German (Aaron Pederson). While Chook nervously relishes the role of killer, his mentor German dominates the screen, prowling around like an angry lion. By giving us minimal backstory into the motivations of these characters, Power manages to make their ferocity more powerful, portraying them as unpredictable forces of nature.
The most interesting thing about Killing Ground, however, is its commitment to wrestling with the relationship between control and evil. In Killing Ground, the most powerful characters are those who are willing to unleash their inner beast, consuming anyone in their path. It is this pervasive stain of evil that seeks to destroy the innocence of our heroes (who aren’t always that heroic, even when doing the ‘right thing’). In many ways, this thriller feels like a survival film and seems interested in asking what sinful beast lies beneath. Is it possible to do right in a world that’s overwhelmingly dark? If so, can someone retain their innocence in the process? In the end, Power’s screenplay allows for hope, but not necessarily without its consequences.
As a film, Killing Ground is an intense thriller that unravels its story in unique and fascinating ways that makes it worth your time.
As a director though, Damien Power just became someone to watch for.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25TH, 2017 UPDATE: Killing Ground was purchased today by IFC Midnight at Sundance 2017. No word on a released date at this time… but keep an eye out.