Review: Hounds of Love dir. Ben Young

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Perth-born director Ben Young introduces a touch of evil into suburban Australia in his debut feature Hounds of Love. Set in suburban Perth circa the mid 1980s, Hounds of Love depicts the horrifying events that the teenage Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) suffers after being abducted by an incredibly disturbed serial killer couple (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry).

Photo by Jean-Paul Horré

Billed as a horror-thriller, Hounds of Love is possibly one of the most harrowing and difficult to watch films of the year. Young’s cinematography is often fractured and rife with symbolism, often leading to sudden, shocking revelations. Young repeatedly uses slow motion capture to film the external, suburban life, warping what would otherwise be seen as perfectly normal into a distorted alternative. When the creepy Whites’ house is introduced, it is depicted in closeups of furniture and paraphernalia, from a cartoon playing on telly to a figurine of Romulus and Remus nursing from their wolf mother. But just as innocent as it initially appears, Young pulls the rug from under us to cut to a shot of bloodied, cuffed wrists and laboured breathing, and there is an intense dread that the film evokes from the unknown (Dan Luscombe’s dark, creeping soundtrack also ups the fear factor).

Photo by Jean-Paul Horré

And that’s just the scenery alone. Whenever it seems Vicki is about to make a breakthrough, her freedom just out of reach, something inexplicably occurs to force her back into the nightmare house, banished to a fate worse than she’d previously suffered. It’s nowhere near the torture porn of an Eli Roth film, but Young manages to combine both alienating distance and brutal closeups into a lethal mix. When Vicki is initially abducted seems well and truly at her lowest point, the scene is shot from outside the room, creating a fresh horror of viewers feeling as if they were in the house itself, yet frozen with fear and unable to help her. Ashleigh Cummings performance does an impressive job of capturing teenage rebellion, and the most memorable, pained faces of the best horror movies. In close ups, Cummings expressions are sheer torture, practically lethal with the way they evoke empathetic pain in viewers.
Photo by Jean-Paul Horré
As for her captors, Stephen Curry oozes with a slimy, skin-tingling sense of violence, an incredibly disturbed performance that leaves viewers with the chills, while Emma Booth’s character oscillates between crazed country hick, at one with her boyfriend’s sick mindset, and abused girlfriend. Although never quite reaching the level of a sympathetic villain, Booth’s performance certainly helps viewers see the toxicity of her relationship, and the damage Curry’s character has wreaked on her mind, understanding precisely where she’s coming from. Meanwhile, in a minor but memorable role, Susie Porter’s performance as Vicki’s mother is a challenging one, trying to be a strong independent woman while being a good mother and undergoing a difficult divorce, but the actress pulls it off with aplomb, and one feels the fear and desperation she goes through as she panics over Vicki’s disappearance. The women in this film are all trapped in some way or the other, whether literally or emotionally by the men in their lives, and it’s all they can do to fight their way out, the audience cheering them on and hoping that they live to tell the tale.

 

Photo by Jean-Paul Horré

Hounds of Love is by no means an easy film to watch, and will have you wanting to throw a blanket over the screen from time to time at just how uncomfortable and tense some scenes will make you feel. For a debut feature, Ben Young shows plenty of promise, and this arthouse thriller is one that will carve its bloody signature into your memory with ease. Brave viewers will feel more than a twinge of genuine emotion throughout various parts of the film, and ultimately be rewarded with an immense sense of relief at the end of the film. Watch this if you want a change from a traditional thriller, and learn to enjoy the slow, crushing claustrophobia that Hounds of Love instils as you watch the women in this film struggle against the shackles that bind them.

Hounds of Love is released in UK cinemas 28th July.

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