Hounds of Love is a deeply disturbing period horror film with a distinctly Australian atmosphere.
As an unseen pair of voyeurs sit in the car park of a suburban high school gazing in loving slow motion over a group of teenage girls playing netball, you can’t help but be immediately drawn into their seedy and perverted world.
When Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings in a wonderful performance as the “victim”) is introduced to us, she is presented as a girl with a fractured outlook on life. Her wealthy surgeon father is her main care giver at her request. She has a very strained relationship with her mother who has left the family home (seemingly for no reason other than to assert her status as an independent woman) – and is now living in the skid row part of town. Vicky’s boyfriend is a source of stability for her despite their implied drug usage.
During an enforced sleepover at her mother’s new home, Vicky sneaks out to attend a party – and is soon enticed into the car of John (an expertly creepy Stephen Curry) and Evelyn (Emma Booth in a captivating performance as the unhinged and traumatized enabler) with the offer of some marijuana to take with her to the party.
Needless to say, this particular pickup takes a nasty turn pretty quickly – and for the next hour and a half we’re treated to some of the most uncomfortable viewing you’re likely to see in an entirely suggested manner.
Whilst chained up in the guest room of the sadistic couple, Vicky is sexually and physically abused, with moments of respite serving only to heighten the next round of games that the evil couple play.
Vicky realizes that her only chance of survival is to try and make her kidnappers turn on each other, and she begins to play off of each of them, probing for their weaknesses and desires. The subsequent interplay between the evil couple is fascinating and tense to watch – as Evelyn swings between being a sex crazed maniac and a traumatized mother who desperately wants her children back (they’ve been taken away from her), there’s a pendulum of emotion for the audience.
John, on the other hand, is a singularly unsympathetic monster, who revels in abusing not only his victims, but his wife and the family dog too.
The “hounds” in the Hounds of Love is a clever nod to events within the movie – dogs feature prominently as substitutes for relationships that are lacking in the character’s lives – and the overall allegory of motherly love being the only “pure” love is a strong one.
I’m not going to recommend Hounds of Love as comfortable viewing in any sense – but it is a fabulous film.
The script is one of the tightest you’re likely to see – with convincing back stories given to the two antagonists, without ever making excuses or glamorizing their reign of terror.
Beautifully shot to incorporate some spectacular Western Australian scenery, the production design of the film is nigh on perfect. Set in December 1987, there’s not a thing in the film that makes you question the setting – from costume, to props and set design, right through to the dialogue which all appears achingly realistic.
Hounds of Love has screened at several festivals (I caught it last weekend at Triple Six Festival in Manchester), and it’s set for a UK theatrical release on July 7th.
If you’re a fan of beautifully shot and challenging narratives, check it out if you can.