HIGH GROUND gets 6/10 Blood in the outback

Directed by Stephen Johnson
Starring Simon Baker, Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Sean Mununggurr, Jack Thompson


The bloody, murderous, and despicable world of Australia’s past is once again explored in High Ground, a film that is sometimes riveting and intense, but also reiterative and unsure. Set in the 1930s in a remote part of Arnhem Land, a ruthless and self-sufficient bounty hunter (Simon Baker) has taken in a young Indigenous teenager (Jacob Junior Nayinggul) to use him to track down the leader of a defiant mob, Baywarra (Sean Mununggurr).

This period film, set in the outback, looking at the cultural differences in Australia, and covered in aggressive bloodshed is likely to get comparisons to The Furnace, released earlier in the year. Both films share the same sombre almost laugh-less attitude and the same retrospective look on the violence and inhumanity of this far-gone time period.

The film revolves around the centrepiece scene of white people conversing with the Indigenous, where we get a clear look at the two cultures, trying to figure out how their two laws can co-exist. Situated right in the film’s middle, it portrays the Indigenous-white relations during this volatile time, taking a look at how these two cultures can sit and speak about their laws and co-exist, while also showing how this comes to a one-sided result.

High Ground comes across as not too fussy, cinematically speaking. There are incredible outback locations, a lot of them distinct from each other with their own signifying differences, yet the film still displays a mere digital-looking aesthetic, capturing awe-inspiring sceneries and portraying them with a bit of visual flatness.

There’s a decent amount of violence and killing that lead up to the conclusion, where it seems there’s hardly any good in most of these men. At the film’s end, it’s hard to determine, through the bloodshed and historical pessimism, what the film’s ultimate message is. It seems like so many similar Australian films before it (like The Furnace) in that it comes to a bloody and messy end for most involved, though with a vague glimmer of hope.