A double dose of Aussie darkness

AUGUST 12 — It might just be mere coincidence but the Chinese saying that “good things come in pairs” seems especially true in the world of cinema.

Okay, maybe they’re not all good things, but patterns (or trends) that come in the form of pairs of similarly themed films are something that one can reasonably expect to encounter every few years, or even every few months if one likes to look harder than usual.

Remember Armageddon and Deep Impact, or Antz and A Bug’s Life, or Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached, or Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down and even The Prestige and The Illusionist?

Now that’s just a glance at fairly recent big studio productions, and already we can spot a whole lot of pairs with premises that do look and sound really similar to each other.

A look into the deeper and even vaster world of independent and international films will reveal even more such pairs, like The Double and Enemy or Coco Chanel and Coco Before Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent and Saint Laurent as proof of how true the aforementioned saying is.

So when I came across two new Australian genre films with plot summaries that didn’t sound similar at all to each other, little did I know that I’ve actually stumbled upon another one of those pairs, only this time the similarity is not in the films’ plots themselves, but more in terms of their heart and spirit.

Killing Ground

Of the two films, I suspect this one, which gained a lot of positive notices at this year’s Sundance, will be the one that will reach more people, thanks to the visceral thrills provided by its fairly typical survival thriller storyline.

Where debuting director Damien Power finds a way to differentiate this one from other already world famous Aussie survival thrillers like the Wolf Creek films or Wake In Fright is in his decision to fracture the film’s narrative timeline and tell the story in a non-linear fashion that actually ramps up the film’s already ample amount of suspense.

He tells the story of three sets of characters – a pair of local guys who might be the equivalent of those typical hillbillies in American horror flicks, a family of four camping near a waterfall in the woods and a newly-engaged couple turning up at the same campsite as the family.

Power drops simple and subtle hints that one of these three timelines happens a few days earlier than the other two, culminating in an astonishingly shocking (and stupendously well-choreographed) long-take scene that will make you scream at the screen like you did at one of those great jump scares in a James Wan film, and there’s not even a ghost in sight here!

Once the three timelines collide, the film becomes fairly routine, but it has one more trick up its sleeve and will mess with your head the same way that Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure did a few years back, leaving the viewers with a fascinating moral dilemma and making it a survival thriller with a bit more to chew on than the usual stuff.

Hounds Of Love

If Killing Ground leaves you with a moral dilemma, there’s nothing complicated in Hounds Of Love, which is also another outstanding feature film debut, this time by writer-director Ben Young.

It premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival and won Ashleigh Cummings the Fedeora Award for Best Actress there. Playing it straight and without any fancy narrative tricks or even visual flights of fancy, Young makes what may at first seem like a fairly typical abduction thriller his own by turning this into a character study of the two captors.

The only visual extravagance the film takes is in a series of pretty stunning ultra slow motion (which will really makes you think of the opening of Blue Velvet) to accentuate how mundane the setting of the film is.

Set in a very normal Australian suburban neighborhood, the story concerns a pair of lovers who have kidnapping and killing a bunch of teenage girls, all in the comfort of their own home.

Their latest victim is Vicki, lured into their home on the pretext of selling her some weed; she becomes our eyes and ears as she is drugged, chained and laid victim to all sorts of unspeakable things, and tries her best to observe the dynamics between the couple, hoping to try and exploit any angles that may work to her advantage.

It’s a pretty upsetting watch, as we, like Vicki, are more or less helpless, but in being given the opportunity to really observe and understand the two captors, Young has given the audience a rare opportunity to look evil in the eye and reflect upon it.

And that is an experience that is pretty hard to shake, if you ask me.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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