Stars: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter, Damian de Montemas, Harrison Gilbertson | Written and Directed by Ben Young
It’s 1987, it’s Perth in Western Australia, and seventeen year old Vicki Maloney is randomly abducted from a suburban street by John and Evelyn, a disturbed serial-killing couple. As she observes the dynamic between her captors she quickly realises she must drive a wedge between them if she is to survive…
Apparently “inspired” by real life crimes, Hounds of Love is a stunning debut feature from director Ben Young, if a little ‘tame’ for its gruesome subject matter. Yes, I did say tame. Young opens his film with a slow-mo look at schoolgirls playing volleyball during a bright Summer’s day. Which seems innocent enough, until you realise we’re looking at the girls thorugh the gaze of our perverted kidnappers – however the power and the unease that opening scene has, as shadows suggest the girls touching themselves and we’re unable to look away, is not matched by the rest of the film.
Of course the idea of the kidnap, rape and torture of teenage girls is, on paper, a vile story to tell; but after that strong opening I expected to be as disturbed by the rest of Hounds of Love. However Young’s film spends the rest of its time hinting as what disturbing acts are going on rather than showing it. I couldn’t help but wonder if going down the route of Christopher Sun’s Daddy’s Little Girl would have made the film that much more powerful and given it a LOT more impact – though I’m sure the film would have come under fire for being far too misogynistic in that case. Sun’s film, another fantastic Australian production, was not shy in showing events unfolding on screen; that film was ultimately more of a truly horrific experience…
That’s not to say that Young’s film is still not powerful, it is, just in a very different way. Similar to The Girl Next Door, the film based on the Jack Ketchum novel, Hounds of Love actually plays like a subdued, yet more emotionally complex, version of that story. Whereas the former film played up the shock factor, Young’s film has a deeper more troubling story to tell. Here we’re seeing three women – the girl, her mother, AND the kidnapper – all affected by the same incident; all three trying to escape from their situations. Obviously Vicki is trying to escape her captors; yet her mother – the women she sees as hampering, nay ruining, her life – is also trying to escape a broken marriage and to move on with her life; however it’s Evelyn, the partner of the perverted serial-killing rapist John, whose escape is the most troubling.
Trapped in a relationship that has taken her from innocent to co-conspirator, Evelyn is as much a victim of John as their teen victim Vicki is. She has been convinced of her unworthiness; beaten and belittled in subservience – so much so that the small amount of power she is able to wield, over the duo’s victims, is an addiction. And John knows just how much to “feed” Evelyn to keep her in tow and under his control. Though John’s control only extends to those inside his house – as Young shows us in a wonderful scene in which John is victimised by a couple of locals.
Packed with wonderful performances, in particular Emma Booth as Evelyn (in what I’d call a career-making role), Hounds of Love is a complex, complicated look at the nature of serial killers that was one of the true highlights of this years Glasgow Frightfest.