For the final feature of the night, writer/director Ben Young’s feature debut Hounds of Love concluded the festival and ended the evening on a thrilling and harrowing high.
It’s 1987 in Perth, Western Australia, and Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) sneaks out from her mother’s house into the night for a friend’s party, but along the way she has the misfortune of crossing paths with killer couple Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry).
In its opening, the viewer has watched the couple clean up bloodied tissues and sex “toys” from the floor of a bedroom and then bury a girl who had recently been their captive, so the viewer are aware of their sadistic intentions with Vicki. One spiked beverage later and Vicki is chained to the bed and left to be abused by the unstable couple. Her only chance for escape comes from her observations of the pair – John’s an obsessive, abusive narcissist, while Evelyn’s emotionally fragile and incapable of seeing herself independent from John.
Perth was home to a real-life killer couple in the ’80s named Catherine and David Bernie, and setting the film offers clear real life inspiration from their crimes. Such as the scene where Vicki is forced to write letters to her mother saying she went to live elsewhere and the methods of the couple as depicted in the opening five to ten minutes.
Hounds of Love is a superbly acted dark film that avoids both typical genre tropes and the excesses of onscreen torture. The film has the viewer constantly in suspense; particularly during its nerve-wracking third act, but the journeys of its two main female characters are what gives the movie real strength.
The viewer’s sympathies are wisely focused on the film’s real victim, Vicki, but Young gives time to observe the couple to explore their relationship. Brief glimpses of John outside the home reveal a powerless man belittled by others, which fuels his power trip at home as he abuses Evelyn physically, emotionally, and even at times with gas-lighting. Both husband and wife are villains, with John being the main antagonist and an absolute monster, but Evelyn’s wickedness is a multifaceted situation. Emma Booth’s performance beautifully and painfully captures hints of what Evelyn has lost in her past, with sorrow, rage, affection and agony washing over her face, wiping away more of her resolve as the story advances. Her portrayal of a lost woman struggling between what her head knows and her heart wants guides viewers towards understanding the person behind the monster. There’s a potential risk that some viewers may see Evelyn as more of a victim than she really is, but the film never steers towards excusing her actions. We’re given a contrast in Vicki’s mom as another woman once married to an overbearing man – but one who had the strength to walk away. The film circumvents showing viewers any of the horrific violations– these are implied or happen off screen – but the devastating performances from Ashleigh Cummings and Emma Booth are at times tough to view.
As dark and intense as the subject matter presented can be, Hounds of Love keeps viewers entranced with a beautifully shot film. Slow-motion shots of suburbia and kids at play oppose the darkness developing on unassuming streets, conveying a subconscious desire to hold onto the instances of innocence for as long as possible. Dan Luscombe’s gentle trance-like synth score and efficient deployment of songs like the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin and Joy Division’s Atmosphere find a sensory appeal even as we know the depravity unwinding beneath the sounds.
Hounds of Love is a strong and stylish debut for Ben Young, and walks a fine line between entertaining thriller and psychological drama, and succeeds at merging the two into a bleak unforgettable feature.