Killing Ground at EIFF: ‘the most unapologetically nasty thing committed to celluloid this year’

As I was waiting outside the screen for Killing Ground, an old man walked past and asked me if that was what I was seeing. After I’d confirmed his suspicions, he tried to warn me off: ‘be careful, it’s a real nasty piece of work’. I have to admit, the old man was right: Killing Ground may just be the most unapologetically nasty thing committed to celluloid this year. It also happens to be pretty damn good.

I felt conflicted whilst watching the movie – there’s certainly a lot of cliché-ridden madness going on – and yet it’s handled so perfectly. It also seems to fall into the sadistic traps of torture-porn more than a few times, but unlike the Saw franchise, there’s no real point or enjoyment to be gained from watching characters be tortured or die – it’s just sickening. Damien Power layers on the violence like Jeremy Saulnier: hard-hitting, real, and unflinching.

Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows star as Sam and Ian, a loved-up young couple in search of a secluded romantic getaway by a waterfall in the wilderness. However, when they arrive they’re none-too-pleased to note that others have got there first. Meanwhile, in what is clearly the past, Maya Strange and Julian Garner star as Margaret and Rob: a couple on a family holiday in the same location, using that same tent that Sam and Ian came across.

Damien Power choreographs the action so that things go south at the same time in both story strands, sending the plot into a debauched frenzy of death, insanity, and violence all at once. This is a bit of a masterstroke as it allows the more perplexing of the narratives (what’s up with the previous occupiers of the tent) to play alongside the tensest (what will happen to the new residents) with a healthy dose of dramatic irony to boot. The antagonists of the picture, whom I won’t say anything more about, are some of the most terrifying in recent memory, with motives similar to those in Haneke’s Funny Games serving to justify the ongoing carnage.

Unfortunately although the film becomes consistently tense and nervy; it never surpasses scarier scenes halfway through the film in which Sam and Ian hear noises in the woods, and walk around in the pitch black looking for the source. In the eerie emptiness of the clearing, this is absolutely terrifying: we’re constantly expecting something bad to happen at that exact moment, given, you know, the title of the film.

There is, however, one shot in Killing Ground that is one of the most masterful things I’ve seen this year. I can’t describe it, as it’s a little bit of a spoiler, but as soon as you see it you’ll know exactly that it’s what I’m talking about. It’s realistic, horrifying, terrifying, a relief, a frustration, and a turning point all at once.

In terms of violence, Power is really pushing out the boat in terms of what his audience can take. There’s verbal, mental, and physical destruction on show here en masse – and not in any sort of stylised way either. Instead of taking the Tarantino line, he takes the Saulnier Green Room/Blue Ruin route of honest, unflinching bouts of aggression in full view of the audience. This lends itself to some pretty grisly scenes, including an ultra-long segment in which some characters are repeatedly tortured and killed. There’s also one particular scene, later on, that I felt was a little overkill, but I do acknowledge there is value to shocking audiences in this way.

In conclusion, Killing Ground is a great film – if you can stomach it. Although it deals in clichés, and skirts the fringes of torture porn, Damien Power keeps the action consistently tense and grisly enough to enrapture audiences, and makes his characters real enough to care about. What this results in is a rollercoaster ride into the heart of darkness – but it’s also unashamedly nasty; even by 2017 standards.



Featured image: ComingSoon.

James is an undergraduate law student at UCL, and London Student's Chief Arts Editor/Film Editor. He wants you to know that Christopher Nolan is overrated.

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