Hounds of Love (2016)
Written & Directed by Ben Young
It’s 1987 in Perth, Western Australia and Evelyn and John are on the hunt. What they hunt for are lone young women whom they abducted, sexually and physically violate, and then kill. Teenage Vicki is distraught over her parents pending divorce and slips out at night to attend a party. Her path crosses with the predatory couple who lure her to their home with the promise of weed and a drink. Once inside her nightmare begins and she learns about their interpersonal conflicts she uses it in her fight to survive.
Hounds of Love is not an easy film to digest. Obviously, from its subject matter it treads into some dark territory, yet never becomes graphic in what it shows. The most harrowing moment of the film has the prelude shown, a door closes, and we cut to black. In this way, the movie refuses to become a mere exploitation flick. Instead, it spends the majority of its time with the characters of Vicki and Evelyn in conversation. Their relationship is developed but remains a conflict up to the conclusion of the film. While there is no explicit exploitation, Hounds of Love is dripping with unease. There are multiple establishing shots, slow motion tracking, through the aging suburbs of Evelyn and John’s neighborhood. The ambient score generates the building sense of menace and evil lurking behind these doors.
So much of the film is dependent on the solid performance from Emma Booth as Evelyn. She is first presented as a partner to John’s depraved hunt. We later learn she is a mother, that her relationship with John goes back to her childhood, and that her dependence on him is deeply involved. However, the film refuses to excuse her role in the horrors that have happened in their home. Evelyn is not a victim, she is an accomplice, but we understand her motivation. I think an effort is made to even explain John’s sick motives. He’s a sociopath first and foremost, but he is also under the thumb of a local low-level bookie who regularly threatens John for money owed. In turn, John becomes abusive to Evelyn but save his full wrath for the victims they bring into their home. The film never asks us to sympathize with them, but it is clear in showing there is a method behind the evil. By outlining these plans, the audience can understand the stakes and see how far these antagonists are willing to go.
Thankfully, Hounds of Love never delves into procedural, the police are completely inept throughout the film, admonishing Vicki’s mother and telling her the girl will be back once she gets tired of running away. The finale of the film reframes a lot of the picture as a study on mothers and their children. There are two mothers featured prominently, and we see the extremes they live at. Evelyn has lost her children and sadly, like a lot of women forced into desperate situations clings to the closest form of what she perceives to be protection, love, and security. The one place where I feel the film falters is what it chooses to do with Vicki. Eventually, she becomes background to the study of John and Evelyn. But in the first third of the film, a lot is done to set her character up, and I felt it lost that sense of her in the latter parts.
Hounds of Love is the exploration of a destructive relationship. By not reducing Emma Booth’s Evelyn into yet another victim of John’s. She enjoys her role in torturing Vicki and doesn’t get any form of redemption in the movie’s conclusion. It’s great debut effort from Ben Young and yet another gritty and stylish crime film out of Australia.