Being in a relationship is constant work, but when abuse and evil take over the dynamics of power within that relationship, it becomes another animal all together. Ben Young’s directorial debut Hounds of Love shows us the brutality of a distorted love fashioned to devour the innocent in an all too realistic and frightening way.
Set in 1987 in Perth, Australia, John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn (Emma Booth) are a couple that like to drive around their suburban neighbourhood in search of pretty teenage girls. They watch them with a predator’s intensity, calculating and timing their approach. Offering rides to shelter from the blistering sun, a joint to a rebellious girl or a kind word makes their intentions seem innocent, cool and neighbourly, covers the fact that they are searching for just the right girl to play out their twisted sexual fantasies. They find her in Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), a headstrong girl who watches her parents’ separation unfold as they feud over her. After she’s been grounded for using forged essays written by her boyfriend, she sneaks out to his party and is intercepted and held captive by the overly friendly couple. When she realizes what’s at stake, it becomes a battle of wits as Vicki must find a way to escape from her vicious captors.
To say this film is intense would be a complete understatement. It shows us the evil people do in the name of power and domination, and how others stay with these perpetrators as a sick version of love or adoration despite the murderous cruelty. Director Ben Young was interested in what motivated women who kill and murderous couples, so he wrote this film after researching many true crime stories. He didn’t mention which ones, but being Canadian I immediately thought of our infamous criminal couple, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. There is also another couple from Perth, Australia, Catherine and David Birnie, who most likely inspired the film with their horrific rape and murders of several young women. Their sick brutality will never be forgotten, much to the dismay of the families involved and those who remember the horrific and senseless murders.
Hounds of Love is controversial and uncomfortable, especially for those who have experience abuse or assault of any nature, but Young managed to imply most of the violence and sexual assaults instead of throwing it in the viewer’s face. What occurs off-screen is still hard to bear, leaving it up to your imagination amidst the screams, which at times made it more intense. One should be forewarned that there is violence towards animals as well.
You could describe the performances a number of ways: harrowing, agonizing, excruciating; I could go on, but what you take away is the torment of the women in the film. Vicki’s mother is determined to find her daughter; Evelyn deals with a similar situation but has had her babies taken away due to her mental instability and attachment to an evil and conniving man, and the spirited Vicki who learns what it means to be broken. Ashleigh Cummings was quite brilliant as the resourceful and sharp teen who has to think her way out of a horrific situation.
Her counterpart in Evelyn played by Emma Booth was terrifying in her complete lack of compassion and morality for another woman despite the hint that she too was abused. Booth’s tightly wound portrayal of Evelyn’s competitive nature for John’s attention made your gut churn at her motivations. In the midst of it all is John, a devilish, unfeeling figure, wonderfully played by Stephen Curry, an actor well known for his comedic work in Australia. His manipulation of Evelyn will go down in the books for me, with his steely gaze and terrifying cat-like movements. His obsessive tendencies were not lost on me either; exhibiting a textbook serial killer profile.
The look of the film is like a slow moving nightmare. In an interview for the 2016 Venice Film Festival for Cineuropa, Young tells of how he uses slow motion to create a feeling of unease and the undercurrent of perversion and voyeurism. He puts the so-called idyllic suburban life under a microscope to show how menacing elements can live side-by-side without anyone knowing. It’s a painstaking detail that is disorienting and leaves the viewer dreading the next scene. Combined with the dark, throbbing score by Dan Luscombe, you have an unsettling thriller/horror that is sure to disturb even the most seasoned audience.
Hounds of Love is not an easy film to view. There is enough trauma played out on screen to keep most compassionate human beings up late at night, but Ben Young has created a lasting testament to evil that you can’t pass up.
For a more in-depth look at the role of women in Hounds of Love, be sure to read Carolyn’s essay Rising Above: The Women in Hounds of Love over at her blog Rosemary’s Pixie.