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Aaron Glenna, Aaron Pederson

“KILLING GROUND” My rating:” B-

88 minutes | No MPAA rating

Certain stereotypes and genre tropes span various cultures.

Take, for example, the feral-hillbillies-prey-on-travelers scenario, which found its acme in Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977) and has been appropriated by the Aussies in the “Wolf Creek” series.

“Killing Ground” is yet another Down Under variation on the theme, one whose rampant sadism is made all the more unbearable by the competence of writer/director Damien Power.

Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) are a young city-dwelling couple (he’s a doctor) taking a camping vacation in the sticks, where they run afoul of a pair of murderous local louts.  Nothing particularly fresh about that setup, but Power tweaks the basic premise by giving us two tales unfolding simultaneously on two consecutive days.

When Ian and Sam arrive at a remote creekside campground (so remote there’s no cell phone service), they discover a tent already set up.  But the owners of the tent are MIA.

In  the parallel story we see the fate of the missing campers, a couple (Maya Strange, Julian Garner) with their moody teen daughter (Tiarne Coupland) and infant son. They become the prey of a pathological pair, Chook (Aaron Glenane) and German (Aaron Pederson), who have rape, torture and murder on their minds.  Apparently they’ve done this before.

These guys are so warped that not even a baby’s life is sacred.

Harriett Dyer

In the second story, unfolding the next day, it’s Ian and Sam’s fate to be targeted by these forest-savvy fiends.

One would like to dismiss “Killing Ground’s” lurid nastiness but Power is so assured — building unbearable tension and revulsion and getting more-than-solid performances out of both the killers and their victims — that  this  is impossible.

Moreover, he introduces surprisingly sophisticated moral conundrums.  Chook is  a reluctant killer egged on by the much more vicious German.

And Ian, given a chance to escape or rescue the captive Sam, bails.  He heads for town to notify the local authorities.

Of course in the real world, this makes sense.  An unarmed city boy is unlikely to overcome two rifle-toting psychopaths.

But in the world of cinema — where average guys often rise to heroism — this is an act of cowardice. We’re forced to ask just how much he loves Sam if he’s willing to leave her in the hands of two Neanderthals.

“Killing Field” undoubtedly will prove deeply satisfying to fans of this sort of twisted mayhem. And even those of us who squirm through the experience must acknowledge that Damien Power has the right stuff.  It should be interesting to see where he turns next.

| Robert W. Butler

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