Harriet Dyer Isn’t the Prototypical Damsel In Distress In ‘Killing Ground’

Summertime is a time for things like beach getaways, backyard barbecues and camping. This summer is no different, but the new film, “Killing Ground” might have you rethinking those camping plans.

In the film, Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) head off for a romantic New Year’s break at a remote riverside spot outside Sydney that Ian visited as a child. They are somewhat disappointed to arrive at the campsite and find they are not alone, though there’s no sign of the occupants of the neighboring tent. But they don’t intend to let any possible company cramp their style, especially Sam, who establishes herself as an assertive character by popping the question, rather than waiting for Ian to propose.

The scenes of Ian and Sam are intercut with scenes of the family of the abandoned tent. Ian and Sam’s romantic trip soon turns into a nightmare when they find the family’s toddler walking around by himself, and a flat tire prevents them from finding help. In “Deliverance”-type fashion, two redneck locals show up and tensions quickly mount.

Aussie actress Harriet Dyer sat down with Entertainment Voice and discussed her career trajectory and why “Killing Ground” isn’t your typical cookie cutter horror film.

Why did you want to be an actor?

I was getting the best marks for it in school. It was where I showed the most aptitude. People were always impressed with my performances in musicals or plays or competitions. I learned that arts and television and film and theater can comfort people. It started out as a second job, and I seemed to be pretty good at it. I didn’t really have a back-up plan so I moved from my small town to Sydney and started taking acting classes and started working. I was 28 and started talking to casting people in Los Angeles.

I’m from a small town as well so I understand the culture shock. What culture shock did you experience when you moved to Sydney?

There was no such thing as traffic where I’m from. I was late a lot for those first two years. I also realized that with my small town openness – I had to grow up a little bit. I was working in a coffee shop and I remember being nice to this man and he was really short with me. It’s like the Midwestern hospitality mentality here. I realized at 19 years old that I had to close off a little bit. It’s a good thing and a bad thing.

I get it. And Los Angeles can be kind of a weird city too. Did you have any culture shock when you moved here?

I’m still working it out. I’ve only been here for four weeks. I’m staying until December or maybe longer. The good thing is that my partner is here and he’s getting a show off here as a writer and an actor. And I have a handful of friends here. It’s definitely a very loud city. I didn’t realize how much I needed quiet until I was here. We’re in West Hollywood so it’s just particularly noisy. We’re rarely without a siren or a chopper or a freaking leaf blower. What’s with the leaf blowers? They just blow leaves around. Anyways, I’ve met some excellent, excellent people. I’m still exploring. To get my visa to work here, it’s taking a little bit longer than I was told, so I’m kind of treading water right now.

Okay, so your new movie is “Killing Ground.” 

It grabs people. I’m impressed at how much it grabs people. I took a few friends to the premiere in Sydney recently. I had a big smile on my face because there was an audible reaction from the audience in all the right places. My friends’ faces were ashen.

It has been getting good reviews. I think when a suspense thriller is good, it works on a visceral level. Why do you think the film works?

It doesn’t follow the usual tropes. A lot of the horror unfolds in broad daylight. It doesn’t have a score that you’d really expect. You don’t really hear the music almost. The movie isn’t relying on violent, shocking music or the cover of darkness. It relies on the tension that starts building in the beginning. It’s very well woven in terms of editing. There’s a lot of going back and forth in time when you realize what’s happened to these people. I think it’s really clever.

I have a friend who saw it here a week or so ago and he’s a real movie buff and he said that the movie has really stayed with him. And a lot of people in the U.S. haven’t been to Australia so there’s that mystique of being Down Under. I think [writer/director] Damien [Power] is really smart and the cast is great. Aaron Glenane and Aaron Pederson, who are essentially the bad guys are such a weird and wacky team. They got really into the head space of their characters. Ian and I wanted to have a beer with them one night during filming, and they just basically talked to each other. It was fine because I think it worked. You really buy them as a weird duo.

And also, there’s a strong female lead which I was excited about. I’m not running around in short shorts. I’m not just screaming with my blonde hair trailing off in slow motion. It’s very interesting. My role and my male partner’s role could easily have been switched.

Killing Ground” opens in select theaters July 21.