Hor­ror gets un­der the skin

Wil­liam Yeo­man takes the scalpel to a truly ter­ri­fy­ing new Aus­tralian film.

Southern Telegraph - - Telegraph Lifestyle -

The au­di­ence’s imag­i­na­tion is far more pow­er­ful than what­ever we can put on the screen. Damien Power

Damien Power’s Killing Ground es­chews the graphic vi­o­lence of pre­vi­ous Aus­tralian hor­ror films set in the out­back, such as Wolf Creek. But it’s prob­a­bly even more horrific.

“The au­di­ence’s imag­i­na­tion is far more pow­er­ful than what­ever we can put on the screen,” says the Aus­tralian writer/di­rec­tor, who for his de­but fea­ture opted for off-cam­era or long-shot vi­o­lence.

Killing Ground, which Power de­scribes as “part of a long tra­di­tion of Aus­tralian cin­ema ex­plor­ing our sense of un­ease in our own back­yard,” is a multi-lay­ered, non-lin­ear film in which past and present run par­al­lel to each other be­fore con­verg­ing in an orgy of vi­o­lence.

“That lay­er­ing was im­por­tant,” Power says. “I didn’t want this sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the past and the present. I wanted them to co­ex­ist.

“And that point where they come to­gether, that shot has been the one peo­ple talk about the most. It took just three takes, but it re­ally is in­cred­i­ble.”

Killing Ground finds young pro­fes­sion­als and city dwellers Ian (Ian Mead­ows) and Sam (Har­riet Dyer) off for a camp­ing hol­i­day in the re­mote NSW bush.

Some­what omi­nously, the camp­ing ground is also the site of an historic Abo­rig­i­nal mas­sacre. When they ar­rive, they are dis­ap­pointed to find an­other tent al­ready erected.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, we fol­low the sto­ries of camper fam­ily Rob (Ju­lian Gar­ner), Mar­garet (Maya Strange), their teenage daugh­ter Em (Tiarnie Cou­p­land) and tod­dler Ol­lie (Liam Parkes) and lar­rikins Ger­man (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Gle­nane).

The three sep­a­rate strands over­lap and in­ter­sect in an al­most for­mal­ist, in­tel­lec­tual way, in keep­ing with Power’s seem­ingly clin­i­cal, mat­ter-of-fact ap­proach to the ter­ri­fy­ing sub­ject mat­ter.

And yet Killing Ground is still rooted in the or­di­nary.

Col­lie-born Mead­ows, who plays the some­what naive young doc­tor Ian, says he felt right at home in the bush when shoot­ing Killing Ground. What re­ally in­ter­ested him was how nor­mal peo­ple re­act un­der pres­sure.

“Ian’s had no ex­pe­ri­ence with guns,” he says. “He’s had no ex­pe­ri­ence with this kind of ex­treme sit­u­a­tion. Who re­ally knows what any of us would do when put in that po­si­tion?

“That’s what I wanted to reg­is­ter on his face in those scenes. That in­de­ci­sion, that in­ter­nal strug­gle.”

It’s an ap­proach Ped­er­son, more ac­cus­tomed to play­ing cops than psy­chopaths, took to heart.

“That was the great chal­lenge with Ger­man: I wanted him to be a hu­man be­ing be­fore any­thing else, ” he says.

“The ex­am­ple I use is Tony So­prano. He’s a so­ciopath. But don’t you love him? How is that pos­si­ble?

“Ger­man has got to be some­one’s son or nephew or what­ever. Some­body must love him. His dog cer­tainly does.”

The ac­claimed Aus­tralian ac­tor, whose pre­vi­ous cred­its in­clude Water Rats, The Cir­cuit, Blue Heel­ers and Jack Ir­ish, has been work­ing with Judy Davis and Colin Friels on the six-part TV adap­ta­tion of Ivan Sen’s film Mys­tery Road.

He feels the new se­ries will be one of his ca­reer high­lights. But he was equally de­lighted to re­ceive Power’s script for Killing Ground.

“I don’t mind if I get to play cops for the rest of my ca­reer, ” Ped­er­son says. “What mat­ters is I’m work­ing. But it was great to get this chance to play Ger­man, who’s on the other side of the law. I read the script and thought ‘Whoa, this is in­sane!’ I loved it and said yes straight away.”

Ped­er­son says the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ger­man and Chook was “deep and lay­ered in so many ways”. The two Aarons de­liver such pow­er­ful per­for­mances it’s hard to be­lieve they had very lit­tle prep time.

“It was ba­si­cally three hours the night be­fore over take-away meals,” Ped­er­son laughs. “But we talked at length, about history, about per­son­al­is­ing it. Then on the set, some days I’d say ‘Azza, I feel like I’ve got a front-row seat to a bril­liant per­for­mance!’ He re­ally let him­self shine.”

Ped­er­son agrees ev­ery­one felt the weight and se­ri­ous­ness of the ma­te­rial, es­pe­cially the vi­o­lence.

“There was that heav­i­ness, ” he says. “So when they said ‘Cut!’ you’d laugh and joke and carry on. Then when they said ‘Ac­tion!’ you’d quickly go back into that dif­fer­ent headspace again.

“And you’d al­ways switch off at the end of the day, and never take any­thing home with you.”

That’s not to im­ply Ped­er­son’s Ger­man isn’t a con­sid­ered per­for­mance, one that may turn out to be ca­reer-defin­ing. The trick was to dis­cover a pos­si­ble rea­son for Ger­man’s be­hav­iour and ul­ti­mate fate.

“The camp­ing site was on a mas­sacre ground,” he says.

“They weren’t ac­knowl­edg­ing the ill­ness coming out of the ground and into them. They were sick be­cause the land was sick. That was my start­ing place, that was the primer for it, and I just coated it in other colours.”

Pic­tures: John Platt Pho­tog­ra­phy

Aaron Gle­nane and Aaron Pedersen in Killing Ground.

Har­riet Dyer and Ian Mead­ows.

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