Hounds of Love Movie Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by Gunpowder & Sky
Written and directed by Ben Young
2017, 108 minutes, Not Rated
Released theatrically and on VOD on May 12th, 2017
Emma Booth as Evelyn White
Ashleigh Cummings as Vicki Maloney
Stephen Curry as John White
From the onset, Hounds of Love lets its viewers know that they are in for a rough time. The film opens in suburban Perth, Australia, during the mid-1980s. High school girls throw a ball on a playground. A brown station wagon drives beyond the fence. The driver and passenger watch the girls in silence. The girls disembark and one walks home alone. The station wagon approaches her. The kidnappers offer the girl a ride. The girl gets in the car.
Abduction dramas are likely as old as storytelling itself. Kidnapping is a horrific truth of humankind. And while director Ben Young’s take on the genre certainly plays to traditional themes, his overall approach feels fresh and distinct. He’s telling an old story. He seems to know that. He seems to know that his audience knows that too because his approach is straightforward. He puts the pieces of his story in place as one would set-up a chess board. The scene, the character introductions, and even the foreshadowing is very obvious and direct.
For example, after showing the initial abduction of the unidentified high school girl, the main character of Vicky Maloney is introduced. The audience knows that Vicky is the next one to be kidnapped. When the scene happens, when Vicky rebelliously goes out on the night streets alone, when Evelyn and John White pull alongside her in their brown station wagon, the audience knows what happens next. Despite this, Young keeps the scene tense. He gives Vicky opportunity after opportunity to escape. But Vicky makes a series of poor choices and seals her fate. The director is playing on audience expectations, not twisting the story so much as weaving through it.
But the story is secondary. Young makes this less of a tale about a kidnapping and more a narrative about people. Instead of focusing on what is involved, his camera is centered on who is involved. His interest, and by extension, his audience’s interest, is on the characters. The bulk of the film is about how these people relate to one another and how they react to one another. Hounds of Love is a psychological thriller where the emphasis is on the psychological.
This works, in a large part, because of the players. Ashley Cummings is fantastic. As Vicky, her self-righteous brattiness before her abduction is relatable to anyone who was ever in high school. And her later portrayal as a victim is as poignant as it is chilling. Stephen Curry’s John White hints at just enough vulnerably beneath his mean, abusive exterior to make him convincing. But it’s Emma Booth who really excels. Her character, Evelyn White, is the most complex of the bunch. Her slight facial gestures say more to the audience than any of the film’s dialogue. For example, in a particularly disturbing scene early on, Evelyn stares blankly as muffled cries permeate through the nearby bedroom wall. She knows what’s happening in the next room and she’s tormented with inner conflict.
Her acting is the perfect complement to Young’s directorial style. With Hounds of Love, Young goes with a less-is-more approach. The movie is grotesquely violent. But most of this violence is offscreen and left to the imaginations of the audience. He doesn’t get lost in gore. He doesn’t fetishize assault. A terrified shriek behind a closing door or a smeared blood stain on the kitchen tiles tells the audience all they need. Again, Young is more interested in people than anything else.
While Young may be effectively camera-shy in regards to violence, the rest of the movie’s cinematography is the opposite. There are so many still shots and camera crawls that these pieces would seem gratuitous if they weren’t so damn beautiful. There is a shot of electrical wires cutting through the sky like an abstract painting, a shot of burnt cigarettes lined in an ashtray like a series of graves, a shot of boarded up window, a square over a square. These images all have a strong a sense of design while amplifying the ominous feeling of the movie. Even the aerial pan of the evergreens where John White buries his victims’ remains is picturesque.
The strongest visual piece is the film’s opening. Here, the camera creeps along the side of the road while the suburb’s inhabitants go about their lives in ultra-slow motion. Particular attention is given to the aforementioned girls on the playground. The difference in speed between the pan and the subject makes for a disorientating yet spellbinding effect. It’s uncomfortably voyeuristic.
Hounds of Love is aesthetically sharp and emotionally effective. It’s a strong debut for the new director. Everything about it feels real; the characters, the dialogue, the acting, the story. It’s a film that leaves its audience mute. Viewers will be so absorbed by what they just saw that they will likely leave the theater in silence, terrified.