If you can stomach it, the trip to hell that is Hounds of Love is another chilling entry in the Australian suburban nightmare, and an impressive calling card for local filmmaker Ben Young.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
In 1980’s Perth, suburbanites go about their lives blissfully unaware that teenage girls are being abducted, sexually abused and murdered by a deeply disturbed married couple, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry). 17-year-old Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is not coping well with her parents’ divorce, and one night sneaks out to head to a party. On the way she encounters the Whites, and in an innocent lapse in judgement is lured back to their, only to find herself chained to a bed and the next victim of the psychotic couple’s sick tradition.
Australian cinema tends to gravitate towards certain genres in which it finds expertise and innovation – primarily horror and familial melodrama. With local talent Ben Young’s thrilling directorial debut Hounds of Love, we’re about to become famed for another one – thrillers centred around kidnapping and hostage-holding. Being released so close to the similarly-themed Berlin Syndrome naturally draws immediate comparisons, but never to its detriment; Young’s film is unique enough and equally excellent in its own right.
Set quite literally in our own backyard, it’s chilling to think that a killer couple like this could be lurking right next door, and given their typical bogan demeanour, it’s highly believable too. Young ups the unpleasant levels to an uneasy extreme, and yet the film rarely feels gratuitous; much of the violence happens just out of frame, and we’re only given hints of the horrific sexual abuse, leaving it largely up to our imagination to conjure up the disturbing images. It’s effectively uncomfortable.
Unlike Teresa Palmer, who was given a more complex love-hate relationship with her tormentor in Berlin Syndrome, Ashleigh Cummings’ Vicki is a more straightforward captive, simply (and naturally) terrified to be held against her will. Fortunately, she’s an excellent scream queen, and is granted depth through her rocky relationship with her divorced parents, particularly her mother (a small but memorable part for Susie Porter).
A seedily-moustached Stephen Curry is detestably monstrous as John; his typically comedic acting sensibility turned on its ear in an intimidating turn as the chief perpetrator. Calm on the surface but capable of truly heinous things, he brings to mind Snowtown’s John Bunting. He’s the scene-stealer, but it’s Emma Booth in the most rewarding role as his madly-in-love but psychologically tormented and conflicted wife Evelyn. She’s massively layered, so crazy for John’s affection and desperate for children that she obeys his every twisted command, but simultaneously can’t escape her sympathy for Vicki, jealousy and contempt of John’s attraction to the younger girl. Booth is terrific at balancing all of this, and her arc is satisfying to watch unfold.
Granted, it can’t help but feel like it’s travelling along the lines of most movies about captors and captives at times, but Hounds of Love is among the genre’s most macabre. It’s frequently tense and unrelenting right up to (and especially in) its squirm-worthy finale. Ben Young knows how to make audiences dig their fingers into their armrests; Hollywood will no doubt know it soon too.
Hounds of Love is available in Australian cinemas from June 1st
Image courtesy of Label Distribution