Hounds Of Love, 2016.
Directed by Ben Young.
Starring Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry and Susie Porter.
In a quiet suburb of Perth in Australia, a teenage girl has gone missing and posters are pinned to every tree. Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) has yet another row with her mother, defies her about going to a party and, walking along the street in search of a cab, she accepts a lift from a couple, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry). Back at their house, she’s kidnapped and, chained to a bed, undergoes a horrific ordeal.
Define “horror”. The dictionary describes it as something that produces an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust. A thriller, on the other hand, is all about excitement, making it sound tame by comparison. Which may account for why the horror label has been hung on a number films this year, ones that hitherto may have fallen into the thriller category. They’re also films which have earned unexpected success, both critically and commercially, and that’s nothing to do with the horror tag. It’s because they’ve earned it. Like Get Out. Or, more recently, It Comes At Night. And, despite more limited distribution, Australian Hounds Of Love looks set to tread the same path.
It’s been described as a horror, and there are parts which are deeply uncomfortable to watch, but for me it’s more of a psychological thriller. Admittedly, there are times when it’s an unpleasant one, but not in the sense that you’re repelled from watching it: what’s happening is nasty and that’s down to the perpetrators.
Inspired by true events, the storyline sounds horribly familiar. In a British context, there’s shades of the Moors Murderers and Fred and Rose West, both couples who tortured, then murdered their victims. One of the most shocking aspects of those cases was the active involvement of a woman. For the film the setting is Perth in 1987 and that feeling of skin crawling unease is right there from the opening moments, with its slow mo images of teenage girls playing netball. The camera pans slowly, as if inside a kerb crawling car, then closes in on certain areas of the girls’ bodies, their breasts and legs in particular. Whoever the driver is, they’re there for a reason.
As the story develops, and Vicki’s kidnap ordeal becomes increasingly violent and frightening, what’s striking about the film is how it exemplifies the banality of evil. The suburb where it all takes place – Vicki is being held just a few streets from her mother’s house – is as ordinary as it gets. It could be anywhere, a place where people clean their cars and children play on the front lawn. And, from the outside, Evelyn and John’s house is just the same as anybody else’s. Except for one, boarded up window tucked away at the side. That’s where it all happens.
The film shamelessly and deliberately plays on the audience’s imagination, so that much of Vicki’s ordeal is by inference. Very little of it is actually shown – just as well, as it’s clearly appalling – but the screams from behind the closed door or that boarded up window, tell everything. As does the view down the corridor to the room where she’s being held, even if the camera consistently views her from a distance. Worst of all are the moments when all that comes from behind that closed door is silence.
Hounds Of Love is creepy, seedy and grubby and it evokes its atmosphere superbly well. First time feature writer/director Ben Young filmed it in around 20 days, and he has clearly has an eye for a striking mage and a flair for atmosphere. It’s a striking debut. But it’s more of a psychological thriller than a horror, even if some what happens is, by implication, horrific. Whichever category you prefer, it’s carefully plotted and structured and watching it is as comfortable as hearing fingernails scraping a blackboard. Which means it’s done its job – and done it extremely well.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★