Director Ben Young’s feature directorial debut, Hounds of Love, which premiered in Venice Days section of the 73rd Venice Film Festival, is inspired by true events. Set in Perth, Australia, the film takes place in 1987 and its story begins just a few days before Christmas. A couple, John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn White (Emma Booth), casually offer a teenage schoolgirl, Vicky Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings), a ride. They are charming and nice enough to lure Vicki into their nondescript home, where they drug her drink and chain her to a bed.
Thus, after a brief set-up begins the story of her imprisonment. The creepy mood of the film is introduced early on in the film through slow motion shots by cinematographer Michael McDermott. Hounds of Love‘s graphic sequences of violence and sexual abuse make it tough to watch. But while the film makes use of a number of familiar clichés, it is far more sophisticated than most horror films of the same kind. Structurally too, Hounds of Love presents significant variations on the form: the victim’s escape attempt takes place earlier than in other works with a similar premise. This is because Young appears to be very interested in the psychological implications of his story, particularly those that concern the surrogate family that forms as a result of the kidnapping, and the shifting relationship between the three leading characters.
We soon find out that John has manipulated Evelyn into believing that rape and murder will bring them closer as a couple. Often, Vicki feels like a replacement for Evelyn’s own children, who live elsewhere with their father, and for the child that Evelyn would like to have with John. On the other hand, Vicki has also experienced familial disenchantment. Her sensitivity to the breakdown of her parents’ marriage makes her an astute observer of the cracks in the relationship of her captors and uses this to her advantage on Evelyn, who deceives herself into believing that John is as emotionally dependent on her as she is on him.
Most of the action of Hounds of Love takes place in the house. This approach enhances the focus on domesticity. When the cameras leave the house, it is to follow Vicki’s mother Maggie (Susie Porter) and her attempts to find her daughter, which is as marginally important as Lila and Sam’s attempts to find Marion in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). The house itself is worth discussing as a prominent element of the film. Vicki is not relegated to a shack outside or a dark basement. She is chained to a bed in a room that is integrated with the rest of the house. She is part of the Whites’ household fabric. This also allows her to observe things, and interact with her captors. Further, the house is not isolated. Neighbours hear sinister sounds coming from within, causing some concern. This aspect recalls a Lynchian mixture of suburban innocence and the dark menace that lies beyond.
Hounds of Love certainly stands out as a noteworthy contemporary horror. Through its observations on domesticity and the repercussions of obsession and possession in a patriarchal society, it is a fine Freudian study of the “return of the repressed.” Sometimes, its psychological weight is such that it sacrifices conventional storytelling devices. But that is also what makes it less predictable than other works. Young is helped in his pursuits by an excellent cast. Curry, often cast in comedic roles, is sufficiently creepy as the narcissistic captor with selfish desires and manipulative ways. Booth’s fine performance as Evelyn is very fine: she is credible as both the villain and the victim of the movie, falling somewhere in between; an ambivalent monster, like Frankenstein’s creature, or a wild fox. – ★★★★
HOUNDS OF LOVE | 2016, Australia | Horror | Directed by – Ben Young / Produced by – Melissa Kelly / Written by – Ben Young / Edited by – Merlin Eden / Cinematography – Michael McDermott / STarring – Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry / Running time: 108 mins.