By Emily Komiyama (Melbourne, Australia)
Horror fans, psychological thriller fanatics, Australian cinephiles – raise a glass. We have just given birth to one of the most disturbing films of the year, and maybe the most chilling piece of work to come out of this country since Snowtown (2011). Ben Young’s directorial debut will leave you sweaty-palmed and chilled to your core. Maybe not such a good thing on these cold winter nights, but this is a thriller that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
Hounds of Love, set in my hometown of Perth, Western Australia in the 1980s, follows the abduction of Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) by crazed suburban couple John and Evie (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth). The film opens with an incredibly impressive slow-motion shot of school girls playing netball. It’s a gorgeously shot sequence, before you realise that we are looking on from the perspective of a couple, who clearly have an uneasy itch they need to scratch. We then see one of the girls fall victim to John and Evie’s game, and it immediately sets the tone for what’s to come. A few graphic close-ups of blood on sheets and a car driving into a forest, I knew I was in for a stomach turning experience after just five minutes.
We then meet Vicki, a young teen bitter from her parent’s recent divorce, who takes any opportunity she can to take it out on her mother – who has chosen the quiet suburban life over her soon to be ex-husband’s lavish, wealthy lifestyle. After an argument boils over between mother and daughter one night, Vicki sneaks out to attend a nearby party. And of course, John and Evie are on the prowl for their next victim, and they lure Vicki in with cheap drugs and free alcohol. Vicki falls prey and finds herself drugged and chained to a bed. And what comes next is a 90 minute mind game not only between the perpetrators and their victim, but also between the perpetrators themselves.
This is more psychological thriller than horror, but what you do see is graphic and I tip my hat off to anyone that can sit through it and not flinch. The true horror, however, lies within what we don’t see. The imagination is an incredibly powerful tool in cinema, and Young utilises it brilliantly. We know what is happening to Vicki, and it is us not seeing it that makes it that much more horrifying. The film is also just as much about Vicki trying to escape, as it is about the fractured and deeply layered relationship between John and Evie. Vicki recognises the cracks in their union and uses them to tear them apart even further. As the cracks get deeper and Vicki gets more desperate, the tension in this film builds to white-knuckler of a finale that almost had to remind me to breathe.
All three of the lead actors are phenomenal. Perth actress/model Emma Booth steals the show as the jealousy-ridden Evie, and if you took a look at her in real life, would not even think it was the same person. Booth brings life to a sadistic, deeply troubled woman where from some deep dark corner of our psyches, we find sympathy for. Ashleigh Cummings is brilliant as always, having followed her career since Puberty Blues (2012-2014). And if there was ever an award for Best Scream or Best Set of Lungs, she would win hands down. That high shrill has still not left my system. And of course, Stephen Curry. Let’s all talk about Stephen Curry. Any Australian reading this will know that we’ve had over twenty years of comedy gold from the guy. Let’s just say, my childhood has been ruined and Dale Kerrigan is dead to me. I will never watch The Castle the same way again. Remember that feeling of watching Robin Williams in One Hour Photo? This is my version of that. Curry is downright hideous in this film. Slimy, manipulative and an absolute monster. If there is one reason for me to never watch this film again, he is it. And he truly deserves all the high praise coming his way.
There is only one issue I had with this film, apart from the fact I barely breathed through the whole thing, and that is the lack of insight into John and Evie’s past, or more their motivations behind why they do what they do. John is a monster, but we see little into if there is a ‘why’ in his equation. Evie’s actions are drawn from her love for John, but a little background on our antagonists would have given us some better character development and some understanding of how they came to be.
The film is intentionally slow paced, and Young takes his time in peeling away the layers of his characters. I noticed my fists clenched at least half a dozen times through the screening and had to thoroughly wipe them down as the credits rolled. As a first feature, Young has just established himself as someone to look out for, and I couldn’t be prouder of a local from Perth setting the bench mark even higher in Australian cinema. Hounds of Love is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is brutal and in your face. But if you feel like you can handle the tension, definitely find a way to see it. It is thriller at its finest, and a milestone for our film industry.