Hounds of Love (2016)
Starring Emma Booth, Susie Porter, Ashleigh Cummings and Stephen Curry.
Written and Directed by Ben Young.
What a dark horse Australia is proving to be when it comes to filmmaking. I first discovered this when I was introduced to The Babadook a few years ago after complaining to my brother I hadn’t seen a decent horror in a while. Now, I have found this little gem and was surprised to find Australia is giving us a whole other dimension to abduction based thrillers.
Hounds of Love tells the story of teen Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), struggling to come to terms with her mum leaving her dad to ‘find herself’. As a result, she plays out her inner rebel and sneaks out at night to a party one evening. After a moment of naivety though, she is abducted by serial rapists/killers Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry) after foolishly accepting a lift and a promise of drugs.
Don’t get me wrong, it still has all the typical elements of an abduction movie - an escape attempt that is thwarted as it comes too early in the film to pay off, agony that is further prolonged by the hard-to-watch ordeal (very tactfully shot), chains and blood, local law-enforcement who don’t care, the inevitable scenarios of sexual abuse, which became over-familiar (and therefore devalued) in the Hostel heyday of torture porn.
However, this film is different from the rest. In many other ways, it plays against expectations, which of course keeps you gripped. Rather than the basement cage in a remote house of most abduction movies, Vicki is very loosely chained in a back bedroom, in a bungalow, on a regular street, and the racket she raises often alerts nosey neighbours. Accustomed to cracks in relationships from her parents’ break-up, she realises that the needy Evelyn, who has children that don’t live with her and dotes on a child-substitute dog, is exploited by her perverse, domineering, inadequate partner. A monstrous master in his own home, John is a little fish in a bigger crime pond (people are chasing him for money), taking frustrations out on his victims and his wife alike. Vicki sees an opening and plays on Evelyn’s insecurities with the moody teenager skill she has developed pushing her own mother’s buttons. As a result, very quickly as a viewer you begin to ask all the questions the Director hopes you will – will Vicki’s plan work? Will she actually be able to negotiate? Oh god, is she actually going to make it out? The fact she is so painfully close to the perfectly populated street (excellent storytelling) makes it all the more enthralling.
In my past posts, I have spoken about true horrors having a huge element of psychological trauma. What works in this film is that John’s victims know exactly who he is and what he wants, but his wife lies to herself about it until he crosses a line, which makes Evelyn waver in her loyalties. Again, this makes us question does Evelyn even have the mental capacity to believe Vicki’s plea?
Abduction narratives are always tough to watch and this one is no different. However, Young’s storytelling is proof he cares about audience satisfaction and how realistic we believe it to be. After all, the minute it becomes too farfetched we switch off. Vicki’s abduction has plenty of uncomfortable scenes, but it isn’t just blood, gore and chains. Most of the harrowing scenes take place behind closed doors, leaving it to us to use our imagination. That alone is enough discomfort for any reasonable person. It doesn’t surprise me to see this film is based on fact, relating to similar abductions that happened across Perth in the ‘80s.
Emma Booth and Ashleigh Cummings are outstanding. In most films like this, female characters have to be foolish and irrational for the narratives to work, but here we see why these intelligent women (Evelyn is unnervingly good at luring victims into the car) ignore their own best instincts to get into a position where John can exploit them.
I think what was missing for me was the motive. I wasn’t sure why this deranged couple did this to young girls, but my first thought was something to do with using them to reproduce, because of the storyline of Evelyn not having her children with her. However looking back, a couple capable of committing such crimes probably don’t need a reason.
The most thrilling scene for me was right at the end, when Vicki is a matter of feet away from her own mother, but being kept quiet under a knife to the throat. Conveniently, Vicki and her boyfriend have code breaking skills, whereby simple spelling errors in letters can reveal a message. Earlier in the film, Evelyn had forced Vicki to write a letter to her mum to throw her off the scent but this handily led her to her best chance of survival.
Does she get out??? Watch it!!! You won’t be disappointed.