I recently had the chance to talk to Damien Power, the writer and director of the film KILLING GROUND which is being released tomorrow (Friday, July 21st) in theaters and VOD through IFC Midnight. After watching the film, I was deeply affected by how unrelenting the film was. Let’s delve into the darkness with Damien after checking out the trailer for the film.
With such a rich tradition of dark dramas and thrillers in Australian cinema, was there any pressure delving into this genre as a filmmaker?
I try to be inspired, not intimidated by Australia’s rich history of genre films – for a country with a small population we punch above our weight.
I think this movie will live on alongside films like Long Weekend and Wolf Creek. Were you a fan of these films or the genre before making the film?
The film is part of a long tradition of Australian cinema which explores white Australians’ sense of unease in the bush that includes LONG WEEKEND and WOLF CREEK. I was certainly conscious of these films when I made KILLING GROUND. In survival horror/thrillers it’s often the landscape that dominates the protagonists – think of the desert in THE HILLS HAVE EYES or the Cahulawassee River in DELIVERANCE. The bush plays a similar role in KILLING GROUND, trapping Sam and Ian in a place where the rules of civilization don’t apply.
When dealing with heavy and dark material, are you able to keep things light on the set when making the film?
Everyone has different ways of coping and you should be sensitive to the actors’ needs. Some like to keep it light. But sometimes you need to embrace the darkness to get through it.
How was making the jump from short films to your first feature?
The job is the same, but nothing can prepare you for the endurance test that is feature filmmaking.
Do you have a preference between making shorts and features?
I’d like to keep making features because I prefer to watch features.
Why was it this project you decided to make as your first feature?
I’m always developing several projects at any one time: you never know what’s going to get up. But KILLING GROUND always stayed at the head of that pack. I loved the story and the characters. It was something we could make on a relatively low budget but have a big impact.
There’s a long, uninterrupted shot that occurs midway through the film, bringing the separate timelines together. How hard was it to pull off that shot? I know I’m going to haunted by that shot for a long time now. Was that something you had in your head before making the film or in the writing process? Or was that something you came up while directing the film?
I first conceived of that shot when I was writing the script. When I came up with it I knew I had a film – it was the perfect way to bring the storylines together. I was very concerned that we get it right on the shoot. It took us three takes – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you don’t have a lot of time it was a big relief. No CGI. It’s all real.
The tension in the film really doesn’t let up until the credits roll. Was that something you planned when putting together the film?
Yes. I always felt the structure of the film was a bit like a hurricane. Everything in the beginning is pulling you into the eye of the storm (the scene which reveals what happened to the missing campers), then you’re flung out the other side (as Sam and Ian deal with the consequences of their discovery). I wanted to keep building the tension right until the end.
For such a dark film, you opt out of showing any overt gore and anything like that, but it doesn’t make the film any less disturbing. Are you more of the mind to let the viewer fill in the blanks for moments like that?
I think viewers can fill in the blanks in a worse way than anything I wanted to show. I’m much more interested in creating suspense and tension than showing gore (which inevitably breaks the tension).
Where did you find the cast for the film? They were all incredible in their respective roles.
I feel blessed to have such a great cast. I offered roles to actors whose work I knew and loved. Most I met through an audition process. Aaron Glenane (Chook) and Julian Garner (Rob) were both in a short film of mine called HITCHHIKER that we shot a few months before the feature.
This may be delving into more spoiler-y territory here, but what do you really think the motive was for the killers actions in the film?
[SPOILER ALERT] Chook and German are opportunistic sexual predators who kill to cover up their crimes. Though once Chook tastes blood, he embraces it in a way German hadn’t anticipated.
How did you get in their heads while writing the film?
The film isn’t based on any one crime but I read a lot of true crime when I was writing – mostly about crimes involving more than one perpetrator, because I was concerned to understand that dynamic.
What was your reaction when you found out the film was going to play Sundance?
Wildly happy. I had no idea how the festival would completely change my life. I got to quit my day job and focus on filmmaking.
What are you working on next?
A feature adaptation of my short PEEKABOO and a teen horror/thriller.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and congratulations on the success of the film!