(The 2017 SXSW Film Festival opened on March 10 and runs all week until March 18. HtN has you covered and GUARANTEE more coverage than any other site! Check out this review of creepy Australian thriller Hounds of Love.)
A brutal cinematic experience, which tells the harrowing tale of a psychotic couple that abducts teenage girls, Hounds of Love feels like a true-crime thriller (though it is entirely fictional), carefully constructed with period details. The time is 1987; the place, Perth, Australia. Filmed in muted sepia-toned colors, the movie immerses us in an atmosphere of sweaty, bloody dread, the grime of which we wash off with difficulty once the story ends. Unpleasant as that sounds, this is fine filmmaking, filled with great performances, offering up a complicated psychological procedural that probes the minds of killers.
As the film begins, we watch as young women play volleyball, observed from a nearby car. The couple in question – Evelyn and John – wait, and director Ben Young, whose first feature this is, slows down time, almost freezing the moment in a pregnant pause of expectation, a technique he will repeat at intervals. Here, it is perfect, a wonderful metaphor for the anticipation of the predator for its prey, haunches coiled. The poor girl to whom they later offer a ride – whose face we never see – will soon find herself chained to a bed, and then dumped in the ground. Despite the potentially exploitative nature of the material, Young spares us the worst.
And then comes Vicki, a teenager unhappy at her parents’ impending divorce. Mom has moved out to a new neighborhood, unfortunately all too close to our antagonists, and when Vicki sneaks out one night to a party, they drive by, offer her some marijuana, and soon she, too, is caught in their web. Now, however, we are on the inside, and can observe the dysfunctional co-dependency that drives them, all the while urging Vicki to escape. Her mother – currently hated by Vicki for leaving the family – mounts a search, stymied by police indifference and the angry scorn of her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Men are mostly useless, or worse, here.
As the film proceeds, we’re never sure how far Young will go with the material. Emma Booth (Swerve) and Stephen Curry (The Cup) make Evelyn and John reprehensible, yet we cannot look away, magnetic as they are. Evelyn’s obedience to her man is left up to us to understand, though there’s a hint that she may be a past victim that he kept alive. He does horrible things, both to her and to her dog, yet she stays, even though he also denies her access to her own children. Ashleigh Cummings (Galore), as Vicki, is a worthy protagonist, both fragile and strong, girl and woman. By the end, we are exhausted, wrung out from the stress of watching, yet also elevated by the power of Young’s craft.
– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)