Director: Ben Young
Screenplay: Ben Young
Starring: Stephen Curry, Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings
Duration: 108 min
BBFC Certification: 18
Australian filmmaking has never shied away from the dark side of life (I’m a particular fan of ‘Ozploitation’ films of the 70s and 80s), but in recent years a number of films have come from Down Under that have been based on real life murders. First there was Wolf Creek, followed by Snowtown and now Hounds Of Love. The film is loosely based on real life couple David and Catherine Birnie, who kidnapped, raped and killed four young women in and around Perth during a 5 week period in 1986. They were caught after their fifth victim, a 17 year old girl, managed to escape through a window and, although not believed at first, led police to the Birnie’s house where she was held.
Hounds Of Love is set in December 1987 and opens in extreme slow motion. The opening shot is of a group of teenage girls seeming frozen on a netball court, but the balls they’re throwing through the air are moving in a sluggishly slow arc. As the camera languidly pans out, you slowly come to realise that this view is from the occupant of a car who is driving by. Before you know it, you are now complicit in this voyeuristic act. Soon a teenage girl says goodbye to her friends only to get picked up off the street a second later by a couple, who lure her into the car with the promise of a ride home. The next we see of her is when her lifeless body is buried in the woods.
The film shifts it’s focus to Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), a teenager whose parents have recently separated. Living with her mother, she pushes against authority and when she is forbidden to go to a party, sneaks out of the window. Whilst walking to the party, she’s approached by John and Evelyn White (played by Stephen Curry and Emma Booth respectively) who lure into their car under the pretence of selling her drugs. After finding herself invited back to their house, it’s not long before she is drugged and chained to a bed.
With his debut feature film, writer/director Ben Young has created a visually unyielding story, dripping in fear and dread. The sexual violence committed by John and Evelyn is never shown, it is all suggested, but the build-up is so intense that you can almost believe you’ve seen it. With shots of Vicki bound and gagged whilst Evelyn potters around doing her household chores, you are reminded that not all monsters wear hockey masks – most have lives that can appear outwardly normal.
Young’s focus is on the dynamics of the three lead characters and how they play off each other. Stephen Curry – who is usually seen in comedic roles – is superb as the menacing John, a man who lives out his horrific fantasies in his homemade prison, asserting his power in the most brutal way. In the outside world he is the archetypical small man, constantly bullied by local hoods to whom he owes money. Also strong is Ashleigh Cummings, who finds the inner strength to use her wits to survive her ordeal. The real standout performance, however, belongs to Emma Booth, as a woman, who although a rapist and murder in her own right, is also a victim at the hands of John. Evelyn is an emotionally broken woman who John manipulates into believing that their murderous actions will make them a stronger and closer couple. There is a glimmer of humanity in Evelyn, and the viewer does start to empathise with her, which certainly left me feeling a bit uncomfortable.
Hounds Of Love is a masterpiece of intelligent psychological horror that forces you to confront the nature of abuse. For a first time director, Young has delivered a remarkably mature film that will surely become a future classic of the genre. I, for one, cannot wait for his next offering.
Hounds Of Love is released by Arrow Video on Blu-Ray and DVD. The Blu-Ray was reviewed and includes the following extras:
Interviews with actors Stephen Curry, Emma Booth and Ashleigh Cummings
Behind The Scenes
Two short films from Ben Young