Every so often a directorial debut comes along that showcases a glaring new talent to keep an eye on. It appears that this is the case for Ben Young and his uncompromised vision of nightmarish terror.
Perth, Australia, 1987. Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is abducted, chained to a bed and left fearful of the hellish future that imminently awaits. Her captor is not a sadistic and lonely delinquent – it is a depraved couple, and their relationship problems have led to drastic measures. To fuel their desire for one another they kidnap young women and use them to stimulate their despicable sexual accord. Vicki must do everything she can to escape the clutches of her kidnappers; every minute of survival is an agonising experience of misery and torture.
Most impressive is that Young shows such little restraint to diminish what is one of the worst human experiences imaginable. Many filmmakers would have shied away from graphically portraying the peril of a young girl stolen from society in such vivid detail. Scenes in which Vicki is shown struggling with the atrocities inflicted on her are unflinchingly traumatic, made even more believable thanks to Cummings’ brave and effective performance. Her character is not foolish; she is young, and the abuse of such innocence of youth is what make the film such an arresting exposition of debasement.
As for the perpetrators, they are performed intensely by Emma Booth and Stephen Curry. Their abilities help to convey the madness and insecurities of the pair, and help Hounds of Love work on an additional level as a twisted character study. Evelyn (Booth) appears to have been beaten down her entire life, and is being held in a relationship which is, truthfully, manipulation. Her belief that the only thing left for her is her partner John (Curry) means that she is willing to meet his demands for the maintenance of their sick alliance. She is a severely damaged woman, and rather than displaying her villainy as elementary, the director makes her character complex and this provides an uncertainty to the evolution of the narrative, rather than conforming to superficial predictability. John however, is a man who enjoys heralding strength over those weaker than him, because in the real world, outside the door of his self-made prison, he is powerless.
This tightly wound tale of human monstrosity revels in unyielding realism. Avoiding pronounced filmic techniques after a rather artistic portrayal of predatory observation in the films exposition, Young’s stripped back approach to such dark subject matter makes this disturbing viewing. Most of the films stylistic imprint can be understood to closely resemble techniques of documentary filmmaking – framing the dreadful events through doorways; the calculated distancing of the camera from its subjects achieves a pragmatic sense of dread and skilfully projects the helplessness of the protagonist onto the audience.
Hounds of Love is incontestably bleak. This paralysing viciousness, however, is crucial in making a film such as this, and offers brave audiences an insight into a disturbing reality that many are lucky enough to ignore in their everyday lives. There are similarities with other films, most notably Steven Sheil’s Mum & Dad, but there is enough originality here to keep audiences inert with fear. It may be the single-most harrowing depiction of serial killers since Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown.
Hounds of love opens at Phoenix next month.