Hounds of Love Review
The camera slowly pans across a playground where a group of mid-teen schoolgirls are playing netball, unaware of the eyes lingering across them. Ben Young’s camera uncomfortably leers at the girls dressed in their school uniform, placing us into the mindset of John (Stephen Curry) who watches on from his parked car along with his girlfriend Evelyn (Emma Booth). This feeling of unease is far from solitary and returns to tie your stomach into knots time and again making you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Upon its premiere last year at the Venice Film Festival a number of people walked out of the screening and it will no doubt prove to be just as divisive upon release in the UK.
Hounds of Love is not visibly graphic in what it shows onscreen but the sickening atmosphere that poisons the air is impossible to escape. Young’s story is based on a number of real-life serial killer couples, although the film's detractors continue to point towards one duo in particular. John and Evelyn work as a team to entice young girls into their car, before taking them back home to abuse, kill and eventually dispose of the dead bodies. All of which takes place in the confines of a quiet lower-middle class town, where the presence of monsters can easily remain undetected.
Set in late-80s Western Perth, the story takes us back to an era and a time where getting into a stranger's car was seen in a completely different light. 17-year-old Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) resents her mother Maggie (Susie Porter) for breaking up the family home after leaving her surgeon father Trevor (Damian De Montemas). Their bickering pushes Vicki to sneak out and head towards a friend's party, but little does she know that John and Evelyn are scouring the late night streets in their car, searching for another victim.
Their offer to help Vicki bag some weed sees her travel back to their house, where the corrupt tag team put their sickening plan into motion. The retro setting sees Young use music by Joy Division, Cat Stevens and early Nick Cave to devastating effect at times. In particular the melancholic tones of The Moody Blues ‘Nights in White Satin’ will never be heard the same way again after watching John and Evelyn writhe together, succumbing to their debased desires, while Vicki is overpowered by the spiked liquor seeping into her system.
Vicki spends much of the film chained to the bed praying to avoid the vile acts this couple will force onto her. Yet what evolves is a closer look at the toxicity of co-dependency seen from Evelyn’s perspective, the very same eyes that revealed such a disturbing vision in the opening sequence. All three performances are strong but Booth’s in particular adds an unexpected layer of humanity. Evelyn is a prisoner by choice in this house, needing to be in love with John rather than wanting to be, broken down and manipulated into committing sickening acts. Which is not say the script tries to excuse or exonerate her in anyway, but it provides a rare opportunity to consider what motivates a woman to abandon herself so completely.
Vicki is smart enough to use her own broken home to her advantage once she understands the dynamics of John and Evelyn’s relationship. This knowledge, much like Evelyn’s inner turmoil and the abuse that takes place off camera, is never explicitly displayed and Young frames the drama suggestively enough to drip feed the right level of insight. The story reaches its final resolution in a slightly unsatisfactory way, with the logic and pacing feeling out of step with what takes place before. That aside, there are few directors who can produce such a powerful and chilling debut and one that will linger with you for days.