Oz Film Festival: Hounds of Love
Perth, Christmas 1987. Teenager Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings), at odds with her mother Maggie (Susie Porter) for splitting up with her father Trevor (Damian de Montemas), sneaks out at night and accepts a lift. Unfortunately for her, she’s taken a lift from Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry), who keep her captive.
A debut feature from writer-director Ben Young, Hounds of Love has similarities with a true story, of David and Catherine Birnie, a couple from suburban Perth, who in 1986 abducted five teenage girls. Four of them were killed, one managed to escape. (That survivor has been critical of this film, it should be said.) The film is fiction, and while we do spend time with Vicki’s parents, Maggie especially, in their search for their missing daughter, the emphasis is on Evelyn, the woman who aids and abets her husband in his activities. If you're wondering why Vicki might accept a lift after only a little hesitation, it's worth mentioning that Perth (the second most isolated city in the world, after Honolulu) was for many years considered a very safe place, with doors often left open in hot weather. The Birnies' killings, known as the Moorhouse Murders (after their address of 3 Moorhouse Drive), changed all that. In addition, it's Evelyn who entices her in, clearly playing on the fact that Vicki may be more trusting of a woman than a man. Hounds of Love is part of a tradition of true-crime stories showing a very much darker side of Australian life, particularly urban Australian life, along with films like the based-on-fact or inspired-by-fact Snowtown, Animal Kingdom. and The Boys.
The film becomes very disturbing, not for what we see – which mostly happens off-screen, though we do see the aftermath – but for the pervasive atmosphere of threat it achieves, to an extent which certainly won’t be pleasant for many. Much of this is due to Emma Booth, who gives a very strong performance. That’s not to disregard the performances of the rest of the principal cast, who are all good, but it’s Booth who is the reason why this film will stick in the mind afterwards. Even if you’d rather it didn’t.
Hounds of Love showed at the Oz Film Festival in London. The showing was introduced by Dr Lindsay Hallam of University of East London, a Perth native, and some of the background information in this review comes from her introduction. Hounds of Love has a UK cinema release on 28 July.