Set in Perth, Australia, during December of 1987, it’s evident from Hounds of Love’s very first moments—a stunning slow-motion sequence of teenagers playing volleyball while a pair of onlookers watch from a distance—that writer/director Ben Young isn’t interested in giving us yet another horrific kidnapping thriller that relies on shocking violence or tortuous gore. Instead, he digs a little deeper with his script, defying genre trappings by focusing on the psychological aspects of the story, brought to life by a trio of brazen performances that make Hounds of Love a truly unforgettable viewing experience.
Hounds of Love follows a couple, John and Evelyn (portrayed by Stephen Curry and Emma Booth), who abduct a young girl walking home from school one day, and we see how that intersects with another teenager named Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) who is having a difficult time coping with her parents’ recent divorce. After getting into a fight one night with her mom (played by Maggie Carter), Vicki sneaks out of the house to meet up with her boyfriend (Harrison Gilbertson) at a party in the neighborhood. Her plans get derailed as she crosses paths with John and Evelyn, who offer to sell the young girl some “party favors” to bring to the festivities. But Vicki never makes it to the party, as the deranged lovers end up drugging her, making her their prisoner, with the intent of eventually killing her and dumping her body out in the woods amongst their other victims.
But the longer Vicki is held captive, the more she begins to realize the power struggle happening between her captors, with John wielding his dominance over Evie, whose loneliness and desperation keeps her trapped within the confines of their relationship. Vicki, not quite ready to throw in the towel on her horrific predicament, decides to try and divide the couple in the hopes that as their relationship dissolves, the distraction will give her a better shot at gaining back her freedom.
As horror fans, we’ve had our share of hostage thrillers over the years, which means that filmmakers have to try and bring something new to the table as storytellers in this well-worn cinematic territory that’s generally not all that “entertaining,” either. Thankfully, Young does just that in Hounds of Love by giving us something more of a character study than yet another grueling experience meant to push boundaries just for the hell of it. He focuses in on the three main women in his story: young Vicki, the equally tortured Evelyn, and Vicki’s mom, who has just regained her own independence. The way Young weaves together their respective arcs is heartbreaking and masterful, celebrating the enduring perseverance of women everywhere through his three very complex female characters.
While Cummings is fantastic as the main protagonist of Hounds of Love, Booth quickly became the most intriguing performer in the film to me, as there’s a deep conflict burning within Evie. Even though you hate her for being a co-conspirator with John, you can sense her own feelings of loss and jealousy over what she’s personally had to give up in order to support his destructive nature. She’s lost custody of her children, and she’s torn by the thought that John may have even harmed them, but she knows that he’s dangerous and demented, so if she challenges him, there would be horrible repercussions, leaving her just as desperate as the young women she helps him kidnap.
Although the women of Hounds of Love are a huge part of Young’s focus, Curry gets his own opportunity to shine through with his performance as the sadistic John, a character as deadly as he is charismatic. John himself has no power outside of his home, as he’s bullied by his boss from time to time, and that provides us with an understanding of why John is the way that he is. Young also gives us glimpses of John’s OCD tendencies, whether it’s lining up his smoked cigarettes in his ashtray, or how his buttered toast needs to be placed on his plate by Evelyn in a particular manner, which sets the stage for most of his misdeeds.
If things aren’t up to John’s perfect standards, that can set him off, making for a volatile situation for both Evie and anyone else who happens to get in his way. Curry makes the role uniquely his own, but it did remind me a lot of Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, another brutal character that you can’t help but be entranced by, murderous intentions and all.
With a lot of the brutality playing off screen, writer/director Young smartly focuses his efforts on the emotional destruction at play throughout Hounds of Love, making his film a standout amongst many of its peers that are more interested in pushing the boundaries of violence instead of visual storytelling. Young also earned bonus points in my book for ending his film with “Atmosphere” by Joy Division, a perfect choice to go with his strong script that is elevated by the work of his ensemble, who all deliver raw, stripped-down performances that make Hounds of Love another well-crafted and hard-bit Australian thriller that’s well worth your time.
Movie Score: 4/5
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