Assuredly disturbing and revelling in its ability to flip the conventions of the serial killer genre, Ben Young‘s debut feature Hounds of Love is one for those that appreciate their stories without gloss.
Counterbalancing its Christmas setting with a tale unflinching in its disturbing nature, this Australian thriller manages to escape the confinements of the “torture porn” subset, despite its many repugnant scenes likely to test even the most stern-stomached of viewers.
It’s December 1987, and after a somewhat telling opening tracking shot that lingers on the limbs of teenage female netball players, we are introduced to John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth, both flawless in their commitment), a sadistic couple whose penchant for murdering young girls is alluded to in a subtle sequence laced with chained hands and bloodied clothes that suggests the monstrosities underneath their approachable demeanour.
Out trolling one night, the couple hone in on 17-year-old Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings), a rebellious student defying the words of her concerned mother (Susie Porter) by sneaking out to attend a party; Vicky’s distaste for her mother stems from the latter’s decision to leave Vicky’s surgeon father (Damian De Montemas). Buttering Vicky up with the promise of alcohol and drugs, John and Evelyn execute their abduction plan with ease.
Whilst we are subjected to the painful cries of Vicky as John and Evelyn torture her, both physically and emotionally, Hounds of Love thankfully leaves much of this material off-screen, instead letting our imaginations decide just what depravities Vicky is being conditioned to, which in turn only hardens the film’s impact.
As much as it would appear that writer/director Young is potentially lining up Vicky to emerge as some sort of warrior, turning the tables on her captors in a “Hollywood”-type revenge mentality, the film rarely wavers in its gritty realism; only towards the climax does it slip into slight predictability. Vicky remains in constant fear of the unhinged couple, even scenes where she attempts to break Evelyn’s confidence in John come across as an organic development rather than a forced contrivance.
Though not a violent film in terms of its visual nature but more so its thematic material, Hounds of Love still proves a taxing watch due to its punishing chapters, but those with strong stomachs will be well rewarded with an all-too realistic picture that defines horror to its very core.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Hounds of Love will be released in Australian cinemas on 1st June 2017. This film was originally reviewed at SXSW.