Hounds of Love, 2016.
Directed by Ben Young.
Starring Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter, Damian de Montemas, and Harrison Gilbertson.
A teenage girl is kidnapped by a depraved couple and tries to play one off against the other in order to escape.
Set in 1987 and based on true events, Hounds of Love is the harrowing debut feature from Australian filmmaker Ben Young that sees rebellious teenager Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) sneaking out from her estranged mother’s house to go to a party after being grounded for not doing her homework. Whilst walking Vicki is approached by Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry), a seemingly pleasant couple who offer Vicki a lift and some weed to take to her party, and after Vicki reluctantly accepts a ride she enters into a brutal world of rape and torture as Evelyn and John take her back to their house, tie her up and sadistically abuse her, until Vicki spots Evelyn’s weakness and exploits it, manipulating the situation and hopefully turning one captor against the other.
With more than a passing nod to the torture porn horror movies of the last decade, Hounds of Love is indeed a grim and gritty affair and, much like its fellow Australian true crime drama Snowtown, is fairly uncomfortable to sit through but not because of any graphic content as relatively speaking, the film is quite tame compared to most torture-based movies, with very little in the way of blood or explicit sex. No, the film works because instead of rubbing your face in every grubby little detail it deliberately takes it time and drip feeds you small details so you can form a picture of who these people are and what they are likely to do. Ben Young isn’t going to make it easy for you though, as straight from the off we get slow-motion shots of teenage girls playing netball as the camera closes in on their legs and bodies, not showing any faces and objectifying those playing so we are now viewing them as John and Evelyn do, and it is also a subtle little trick into letting us know that what we are about to see won’t sit comfortably.
And it doesn’t, as John and the increasingly unstable Evelyn set about terrorising Vicki physically, verbally and emotionally, as Evelyn learns that Vicki’s parents are separated and she lives with her dad before forcing the young girl to write to her parents telling them she has moved to another state as she cannot face living with warring parents. However, as John becomes more and more lecherous towards her Vicki notices that Evelyn cannot stand being second in her husband’s affections – however twisted and brutal they may be – and so starts dropping hints to her female captor that John is just using her, and once those seeds of doubt are sown Evelyn’s loyalties start to waver just enough so that Vicki can drive a wedge between them, although John may not be quite so easy to manipulate and it is these slow, emotionally-charged scenes that drive the film forward as the undercurrent of violence simmering just below the surface of all three main characters threatens to boil over at any given moment.
It is the human element of Hounds of Love that makes it such a compelling film to watch, for not only do we get to see the actions of a mother and father coming together at a difficult time and desperate to get their daughter back safely but also the depictions of John and Evelyn as a husband and wife with family issues of their own – we learn that Evelyn has had her children taken off her by her ex – as well as their partners-in-crime activities with the teenage girls of the neighbourhood. Yes, they are monsters but they are not faceless ones, with Evelyn in particular given just enough of a back story that, thanks to a strong performance from Emma Booth, she could have some sort of redemption should things play out that way.
But you’ll have to watch it to see what happens as the ending is as powerful a punch to the gut as anything that lead up to it. Hounds of Love is a difficult, occasionally frustrating watch and anybody going into it expecting Hostel levels of gore and action will be sorely disappointed as the film has a few levels to it that demand a little more attention as your feelings for certain characters will be tested. Performances are all excellent, especially the aforementioned Emma Booth and Ashleigh Cummings as the two female leads share a lot of screen time together and manage to flesh out their personas to way beyond what would have been written down for them, and Stephen Curry also puts in a worryingly convincing turn as John, a man who comes across as weak and a pushover to the outside world but is a wild animal once he is behind his front door. The real star, though, is probably director Ben Young, who shows a lot of promise as a filmmaker to watch with his ability to make certain scenes creep under your skin just by framing and using his actors well, as well as having an ear for ‘80s music and how to use it well. There are a couple of his short films included on the disc, as well as cast interviews and a music video, so you can brag where you heard of him first but as for the film itself, it isn’t one to put on for a casual watch but for something a little deeper, dirtier and edgier without going to gratuitous extremes then Hounds of Love is worth seeking out.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★