Hounds Of Love is an ordeal. It's a film that you recoil, flinch, and feel utterly repulsed by. But rather than provoking you to turn away in disgust and dream of lighter more charming fair, you're continually pulled in closer to this harrowing predicament, as debutant writer and director Ben Young and his astounding cast create a haunting and compelling story that still feels achingly real.
Set in suburban Perth, Australia, during the mid 1980s, Hounds Of Love opens on John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn White (Emma Booth), a couple who are picking up young women on the street and then taking them back to their home where they sexually abuse and then murder them. Their latest conquest is Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings), who -- after an argument with her mother -- leaves home in the middle of the night to head to a party, but along the way is abducted by the pair.
Once inside their home, and after being drugged, Vicki is tied up and chained to a bed. But while she's well aware of how drastic her situation is, and reacts accordingly to the nightmare that she is put through, Vicki soon notices that she might be able to drive a wedge between the volatile couple.
Despite being violent and unsettling, Hounds Of Love avoids the gratuity that can be a detriment to films of a similar ilk. Instead, Ben Young realizes the way to truly creepy under his audience's skin is in the detail. The shots and glimpses of bloody tissues, soiled sheets, the gashes and sores on Vicki's wrists and ankles, and the anguish and fatigue etched across her face make the torment all that more real and painful to watch. Especially because of just how calm and organized John and Evelyn are, as you're immediately made aware that this is simply routine and a normal activity for them.
All of that wouldn't work without the spell-binding performances from its leading trio of actors, though. As Vicki, Ashleigh Cummings doesn't just heighten how drastic her predicament is, as well as making you feel the physical and emotional pain and strife that she is going through, but after originally coming across as entitled and self-centered, she's able to convey an intelligence and guile in just a few looks and stares.
Meanwhile, Emma Booth and Stephen Curry create a beguiling yet rotten twosome, who are able to ensnare their targets with a slow seduction and dance that their victims don't even know they're tangled up in. Stephen Curry's strut, pauses, and the manner in which he prowls and erupts leave you on edge, while Emma Booth brings an outer-worldliness to Evelyn that means you're constantly caught in her trance. But while Evelyn is less of a predator than John, she's actually the viler of the two, because she tries to get Vicki comfortable and acts like her deluded surrogate mother, but is willing to do whatever it takes to please and satisfy John. Each of the actors give shuddering portrayals, with their wails and screams and quiet threats all adding to the pervading revulsion that Hounds Of Love wants you to feel.
The fact that first-time writer and director Ben Young is so successful in creating such an unsettling film immediately sets him out as a talent to watch. There's a patience and control to his direction that lulls you in and allows the film to fester and breathe while still becoming increasingly uncomfortable, especially as it unfolds under the searing Australian sun. Ben Young focuses in on the visceral dread and raw emotion of Vicki's predicament, playing out sequences in a cold, meticulous, and elongated fashion that leave you feeling shattered and drained.
My only quibble is that its ending is a little too clean-cut, but that's only minor. Because while Hounds Of Love is certainly an acquired taste, it's also a rare film that will ruminate and still terrify you days after you've seen it.
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