‘Hounds of Love’ Film Review
Hounds of Love is cinema worth enduring.
In Ben Young’s horror film Hounds of Love, it isn’t the violence that’s disturbing. In fact, Young cuts away from the most graphic scenes, preferring that audiences terrify themselves instead. It’s a classic storytelling technique, reinforcing that old adage that no matter how many buckets of blood you can throw the screen, it’ll never match what you can dredge up from the murkiest parts of your mind. By avoiding gory distractions, Young manages to raise interesting questions about the nature of difficult-to-watch cinema. Namely, how can you justify putting audiences through something like Hounds of Love?
A plot summary is enough to make this sound like something no one should want to see, much less enjoy if they did. Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry) are a serial-murdering couple who hunt high school girls, torture them and dump their bodies in the woods. The film takes place in Perth and is loosely based on the real-life serial murdering couple Catherine and David Birnie. Early on in the film when the Whites are staking out their next target, Young’s camera inhabits their perspective, panning in ultra-slow-mo and leering over the exposed flesh of high school girls playing netball. Already, the audience is being made to feel like lecherous perverts, the way director Michael Powell did with his P.O.V. shots in Peeping Tom (1960). The Whites eventually settle on Vickie (Ashleigh Cummings), who’s just snuck out of her Mum’s place (Puberty Blues alum Susie Porter plays her mum) and is off to a party. Pretty soon she’s drugged, chained up on the bed and at the mercy of this remarkably dysfunctional couple.
The product is as brutal as what’s on the label. So why would audiences put themselves through it?
Why would I, a critic, strongly recommend they do?
It isn’t just the magnificent technical abilities of director Ben Young, who demonstrates masterful use of a camera’s empathetic capabilities in his feature debut. The sequence in which Vickie is first feeling the drowsy effects of her spiked cup of goon, set to The Moody Blues’ ‘Nights in White Satin’, has Young, assisted by Michael McDermott’s grainy cinematography, actually replicating Vickie’s narcoleptic spell. The camera blurs, tilts and wobbles as Vickie tries to leave the house, her two captors closing in on her. This is like watching Monica Bellucci descend the subway steps in Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible (2002)—sometimes the horror is worse when you know what’s coming.
It isn’t just top-notch performances, either. Stephen Curry plays aggressively against type as the controlling, macho-wannabe John. Curry wasn’t Young’s first choice but the Aussie icon reportedly loved the idea of playing a villain so much he requested the part. Scenes in which he’s emasculated by a work mate who owes him money are contrasted with his angry outbursts at home, crafting a dangerous loser—something, it seems, Curry is adept at portraying. Emma Booth as the troubled Evelyn is mesmerising. She and Ashleigh Cummings develop a strange bond in which Vickie plays to Evelyn’s weaknesses, inducing paranoia and self-doubt. Few actors could portray the inner turmoil and desperate adoration Evelyn has for her partner John.
All of these are good reasons, but what makes this harrowing film worth enduring is how seriously it treats its subject matter. Young’s is a script about abusive relationships which features character growth in places you’d least expect it. The culminating effect is a brilliant kind of catharsis. It shows, more intelligently than high profile directors with violence fetishes like Quentin Tarantino or Oliver Stone, what kind of purpose violence has in a film, and why films like this are worth enduring.
Watch the trailer below.