Adventures in Streaming

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Killing Ground

Killing Ground (2016) tells the story of Sam and Ian, a young couple who has just decided to get married. They’re on a camping vacation together, picking a campground that had been recommended to them by someone who seemed to know the area.

Once they’re settled into their campsite, they realize that the tent next to theirs seems to be abandoned; when they investigate, they find a baby whose family has apparently left him behind. They then encounter the people who only days before had murdered the baby’s family, and Sam and Ian are obliged to fight for their lives as well as protect the baby.

In the end, Ian leaves Sam behind to go get help “because [he] didn’t know what else to do”, and while Sam believes he left her because he was taking baby Ollie to safety, he in fact had left Ollie behind as well.

Unfortunately for the audience, Ollie’s fate – although we know he’s alive as of the final events of the film – remains a mystery.

On one hand, this movie offers a fairly progressive depiction of women – they’re all empowered to save themselves and to protect others, and, even though for two of them their efforts result in failure, none of the women ever give up the struggle to survive. Also, Sam is the one who suggests marriage to Ian, which is still considered unconventional, and when the crap hits the fan, Sam kicks in without waiting for rescue and does what she needs to do to save herself, Ian, and Ollie. She even kicks in after the constabulary finally arrive and are promptly shot by the bad guys – this setback motivates rather than discourages her.

There isn’t anything wrong with Ian going for help, since he clearly couldn’t overpower the bad guys on his own and he and Sam needed help. But given all that Sam had been expected – and able – to do to overpower the bad guys, and the risk she consistently took to help the others, Ian’s inability to be brave or productive becomes more egregious and disappointing. More than once he tries to grab a gun from his assailant or to fight that assailant, but gives up and runs away instead; if it had just been a matter of him versus the bad guys, this might not seem so bad, but when we know he’s not taking the actions that will protect his partner and the defenseless child, he seems particularly unhelpful and, frankly, cowardly.

When Sam realizes that Ian had left her and Ollie behind, she is understandably surprised – she seems not to know how to process the information, and can’t even be dejected about it. After she and Ian are transported to the hospital, she makes her way to his room and watches him, her expression one of disappointed thoughtfulness.

The acting in the film is pretty good; the events are depicted in a way that creates significant tension as well as ambiguity about the timeline between the earlier family being butchered and Sam and Ian being attacked. We’re worried about the baby, who’s been on his own for some time now – we’re watching his family be butchered without knowing for sure how long ago that was. We’re hoping some of Ollie’s family survive, but we don’t find out until more than half-way through. We’re watching the bad guys catch up with Sam and Ian, and the urgency feels pretty real throughout. The bad guys aren’t painted particularly creatively: they’re just your run-of-the-mill woods-based psychopaths. But they do a good job of presenting that, and they seem genuinely unpredictable and pretty ruthless, so the stakes feel high.

What at first seemed like a gender-swap – reversing stereotypical roles like rescue or marriage proposals – ultimately becomes much more. It isn’t that Ian doesn’t act “like a man should”. It’s that Ian doesn’t act at all. “Well, that’s how women are often depicted,” you might say. But with few exceptions, women are presented as nurturers, protecting children at all costs. If they aren’t nurturers, then they aren’t considered to be good women … and Ian demonstrates a few times that his nurturing skills are not up to par either with his partner or with what the audience expects. The thought of staying to find the baby doesn’t even occur to him, and when he leaves to get help he doesn’t even take the time to see which way Sam had been taken. He doesn’t stay, he doesn’t fight, he doesn’t try. Whether he’s male or female, his actions – or lack thereof – cause a lot of trouble for those who thought they could depend on him at least to be there.

In a world where gender-norms are being rewritten consistently, the one standard that pervades is that two people of whatever gender need to be good partners for one another, and Ian has given a lot for Sam to think of in that regard.

The movie is a good mix of tension, action, and deeper themes. The audience is occasionally disappointed with some events – the killing of the family, the ultimate disappearance of Ollie, Ian’s whatever-he’s-doing – but not with the storytelling. It’s got some gory stuff, some gritty stuff, some it’s-right-behind-me stuff, and some heroic stuff. Overall, it’s pretty good.

popcorn icon    8 out of 10

The Thing I Like About …

… That “Hell No” trailer for the film-that’s-unfortunately-not-real:  that it sends the same message actual horror films are sending.

In the trailer, sensible people make sensible decisions: cops wait for back-up, college kids don’t enter the spooky cabin in the woods, guys don’t follow cheerleaders into insane asylums to play with Ouija boards … and everyone lives.  In actual horror films, college kids do a host of stupid things, like going into haunted houses, cabins in the woods, insane asylums, dark tunnels, spooky attics, poorly lit basements … and so on.  They follow blood trails instead of calling the police.  They follow the strange sounds as though they actually want to know what’s making them.  Walk down a creepy forest trail in the middle of the night? – how else can they be attacked by serial killers, chainsaw maniacs, vengeful spirits, zombies, cannibals, lunatics, werewolves, aliens, or hordes of irradiated spiders!

But they do these stupid things for the same reason the “Hell No” crowd was not doing them: they’re demonstrating how actions become consequences.  Crazed mountain men? – they’re chasing you because you took a wrong turn.  Ghosts possessing your children? – that happened because you insulted the ghosts, or stole their house, or used their belongings, or any number of things that you did.  Demons eating your girlfriend? – well, you shouldn’t have bought that Ouija board.  It’s not the bad guys’ fault … it’s yours.

In the “Hell No” trailer, no bad things happened because everyone made good decisions.  The characters’ survival was their own doing.  In real horror films, horrible things happen because everyone makes bad decisions.  The characters’ demise is their own doing.  Either way, the message is the same – these events can be controlled… by YOU!

People who don’t like horror films don’t always appreciate what the films are doing – they’re letting the audience live in a world where unhappy events, evil that occurs, and bad guys that exist are entities that can be predicted or outwitted or understood.  If we behave a certain way, then we can guarantee what will happen.  If we don’t behave like the dopes in horror movies, then we can guarantee our own safety.  Horror movies – and the “Hell No” trailer – allow people to forget that real evil pretty much does whatever it likes, no matter what we do, with no guarantees, no safety, and no warning.

Suddenly a monster-filled cabin in the woods seems like a comfort, doesn’t it?