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Horror based on true events always risk teetering over a discretionary line, one that tests viewers ability to comfortably separate reality from the implied division of such that the medium inherently allows. Violence and gore in the genre are easier to enjoy, for lack of a better term, if it is directed at figures made of fantasy. When they are not, it feels more than a little disconcerting, treading on a scared trust built between filmmaker and audience about what we as a viewer should feel.
Certainly, many films have used very real and disturbing cases of murder as inspiration for stories, including backstory on the killer or killers. There is an inherent fascination with knowing more about them, and with Hounds of Love, that story centers on a killer couple and their graphic atrocities put upon young women, and while the film is visually and narratively disturbing, it is also a troubling experience that offers little in understanding who these people are and what motivates them.
It starts with leering, the camera in near dead slow motion ogling the supple bodies of teen girls on a playground, the point of view clearly that of a predator. We sense right away that there is a deep menace standing in the light of day and it is looking for a victim. We then meet Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings), a rebellious girl angry with her mother for leaving her father and coming down on her for her school work. When she skips out to go to a party, she is picked up by a rather innocent-looking couple named John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry, Emma Booth) who offer her a little party starter that she can’t resist, but soon finds herself drugged and chained to a bed, the next victim in the hands of a pair of crazies who have their own set of problems, something Vickey picks up on and sees as her only way to escape.
Written and directed by Ben Young, Hounds of Love begins with great potential, that opening shot of playing girls and dark fear burrowing into the pristine suburban landscape of the film’s setting, Perth, lend the film a jarring start. Young uses this to great effect and allows the theme to seep into later moments, repeating the slo-mo bits a few more times in establishing the juxtaposition of the banality of middle class summer fun and the horrors of a dank death room in a house on the same street. Young, in his feature film debut, builds his story well and creates palpable atmosphere that is undeniably heavy, even as it wanes as the film progresses.
To be sure, there are moments of absolute vile behavior, scenes of rape and abuse that are terrifying to watch, all filmed with a great deal of odd authenticity; no music, no flashy movie tricks, almost vouyeristic. Plenty is left off camera thankfully, with muffled screams and implied fury, cutaways of bound hands, tossed underthings, and such, leaving it an often, intentionally uncomfortable watch. We learn, as Vicky endures what girls before her must have missed, is that the Whites are not a stable union, that each harbor haunts, with Evelyn particularly unhappy. With Vicky’s experience dealing with her own parent’s split, she recognizes the rifts and begins to ply at them, pushing buttons that work to pit the killers against each other. It’s a dangerous game.
While there is much that will repulse, by design, the performances are not to be ignored, with the three leads all delivering combustable turns. There isn’t a weakness among them, even if the film becomes relentlessly, oppressively dark. Cummings in particular deserves praise for her fearless work. This is not a film for the squeamish, a notation used often when describing envelope-pushing horror, so those who seek such things, there is much here that will satisfy, a word choice that begs clarity. All others, be warned.
Movie description: Hounds of Love is a 2017 dramatic horror film about an abducted school girl who must drive a wedge between the couple who kidnapped her if she is to survive.
Director(s): Ben Young
Actor(s): Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry
Genre: Horror, Drama