Australian debut writer/director Ben Young makes an astonishing transition from lightweight TV with Castaway and Prank Patrol (Candid Camera for the i-generation) to this edgy, visually scintillating kidnap/rape/escape thriller. Hounds of Love gradually unravels its characters before developing them via scenes of suspense, conflict and surprising poignancy. Young shuns gratuitous violence and gruelling exploitation to set HoL apart from lesser contemporary sub-genre efforts as well and grimier Giallo and Grindhouse flicks like Almost Human, House on the Edge of The Park and I Spit On Your Grave.
It’s near Christmas in sun-soaked suburban Perth, 1987, when troubled teenager Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) is kidnapped by local maniacal grunts John and Evelyn (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth), bound in their home then subjected to psychological torment, sexual humiliation and physical abuse. Vicki must manipulate John and Evelyn by studying their characters/relationship dynamics then turn the couple against each other in order to survive.
Ben Young mines remarkable performances, governs complex, multifaceted suspense by avoiding stereotypes and clichéd set-pieces which cripple most modern movies of a similar ilk. What could have gone awry through the lens of a lesser film-maker is here levered with deft, care and artistry. The camera glides across props, through sets, establishing motifs, capturing random objects in close up/apartments, spliced with shots of blood dotted hankies and bound female wrists, weaving moods and clues to feed our scrutiny.
Scenes which should repel, subvert the characters, setting and context. Meanwhile moments of the everyday are eloquently intercut with surreal and delicate dread. HoL resounds like a shimmering reverie/mood film which makes it more wistful and other-worldly yet it could still sadly sit (and get lost) in a sub-genre of lesser efforts if marketed inappropriately/solely for horror fans (which it hasn’t been). Young’s film is much more than that, and will satisfy genre lovers and film fans in general as well as mainstream movie goers. It’s a subversive, evocative and enthralling thriller which burrows deep beneath its characters to generate a calm-crushing, tension whipped skit in a jaded Perth suburbia.
Sometimes the sleek style overshadows the substance and scenes seem a tad too refined, contrived and distracting. HoL also gratingly adopts the red herring of a famous 80s psycho thriller but still remains a savage cut above many more inelegant b-movies and genre thrillers with similar plot/concepts. HoL for the most part, remains brilliant, innovative, intelligent film-making.
It’s not as upsetting or grubby as anything from the oeuvre of Giallo film-makers Umberto Lenzi or Ruggero Deodata, who set the trend with the aforementioned features back in the 1970s. HoL sits more at ease alongside contemporary psycho horror Don’t Breath and the slightly older likes of: Cherry Tree Lane, Eden Park and Wolf Creek. It frequently astonishes and unsettles by way of its dazzling visuals, a strong understanding of its characters, genre and material, melded with an MO to engage, amaze and entertain.
Hounds of Love is released on July 28th.