Hounds of Love (2017)

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Support independent film. This is my plea to you. Without the support of audiences seeing their films, how can we possibly expect young and talented filmmakers to make it in the industry and have their visions realized? In a world dominated by blockbusters that are mainly sequels, remakes or reboots, it takes a lot for a young amateur director to pick up a camera and dare to make something that they believe can rival the biggest films. In my years of watching films, I always find solace in independent films, normally finding them to be the most original and unique stories, made in ways that are often innovative and experimental. One such film is Hounds of Love, a small Australian film that serves to be a truly audacious debut for director Ben Young.

John White (Stephen Curry) and his wife Evelyn (Emma Booth) are a married couple that has been together for years. Like most couples, they have their issues, and their marriage is constantly being tested. However, they do find ways to bond and attempt to make their relationship stronger. For example, their favorite hobby is kidnapping teenage girls, raping and then murdering them. It is one of those adorable couple quirks, right? However, their relationship is put to the test when their latest victim is Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings), a rebellious young girl that makes the stupid decision to sneak out her house. What she doesn’t realize is that she will be entering into the clutches of the despicable John and Evelyn, who use their married charms to coerce her into their home, where they subsequently chain her up and abuse her until she is a shell of a person. Meanwhile, her family catches on that she is missing, and try their best to find her with the most narrow leads possible.

When I heard about this film, I thought it would be unremarkable – just a simple, bland thriller about someone being kidnapped and forced to be abused. I wasn’t expecting Hounds of Love to be one of the most challenging and thrilling films I’ve seen in a long time. It may not, on the surface, seem very innovative or original, but trust me when I say that Hounds of Love is an extraordinary film which has some truly shocking surprises scattered throughout, making it one of the most despicably great kidnap thrillers of recent years.

First of all, Hounds of Love is a film driven by its performances, particularly the central three. First of all, Ashleigh Cummings plays Vicki, the victim. Initially, she is snarky and sarcastic, a typical teenager. In the first act, she doesn’t seem particularly special, but one can definitely see that there is something about her that is unique. Most of the film consists of Cumming slowly disintegrating from cocky schoolgirl to a brutally abused villain, and all of her dignity is stripped away as she becomes the victim of a truly deranged couple. Cummings is impressive throughout, bringing out the desperation and playing this girl slowly being destroyed (and eventually set to be murdered). The terror Cummings brings out likely mirrors the horror that someone in the same situation would feel, and it never feels artificial or false, even for a moment.

The deranged couple, however, are the true stars of this film. Emma Booth gives one of the most marvelous performances of the year, essentially playing two roles – the demented serial killer, as well as the concerned mother and wife who wants to have a good life for her family. Booth is utterly incredible – her character is extraordinarily layered – she is not a stereotypical villain, rather serving to be far more complex, with proper development and characterization that sets her apart from other similarly terrible, albeit far less compelling, cinematic villains. Booth gives a truly memorable performance and playing such a conflicted character allowed her to remain in one’s memory. It is an unforgettable performance if there ever was one.

On the other hand, whereas Booth’s character is conflicted, Stephen Curry’s performance as John White is almost the complete opposite – he is an utterly sinister, incredibly evil figure without a single redeeming quality. He is far more demented than his wife, and he drives the plot forward through his cruelty. It is odd that Hounds of Love presents us with a pair of rapists and serial killers, yet still makes one of them far more despicable. Curry plays the character in a way that sent chills down my spine – coldblooded, glassy-eyed and the epitome of evil, he is truly unforgettable and is almost nightmare-inducing. It is a pity that Hounds of Love is not as widely seen as it should be because if it was, I have no doubt that Curry would enter into the canon of great cinematic villains. He is a unique and mesmerizing villain, and he brings out the best in the material, playing the character so beautifully deranged, you’ll find it very difficult to not be horrified by his antics.

Hounds of Love is very far from being a typical kidnap thriller. It seems very refreshing precisely because it subverts many of the expectations one has about similarly-themed films. More than anything, Hounds of Love is a film about relationships, not only between victim and captor, but also between captors themselves. Hounds of Love descends into a family drama just as much as it is a thriller. Many clichés associated with these kinds of films are contradicted, and while on the surface it may appear to be pretty basic and uninspiring, it is actually an ingenious piece of work, as it goes against those tropes that become stale and dull. There are some moments that do appear to be uninspired but trust me, absolutely everything in Hounds of Love pays off beautifully. It is a far more complex film than people are willing to believe, mainly because Young takes such a unique view to the familiar territory of this kind of crime thriller, and infuses it with a unique viewpoint that I never actually considered before, but now realize how utterly genius it is.

Hounds of Love, like many Australian crime films, is a low-budget thriller, and because of that, it appears to be a lot more amateur than many mainstream films. This is not a bad thing at all – rather, it benefits this film tremendously, as it creates a gritty sense of realism. The low-budget aesthetic of Hounds of Love really works in its favor, precisely because of how it forces the audience to be thrust into the world of these characters. It may not be a flashy film, but it certainly achieves everything it needs to achieve by being a humble and very unassuming film – it makes it even more terrifying, giving it a far more realistic feel than an otherwise bigger production would have. Hounds of Love is a film that terrifies you, mainly because reality and fiction become seemingly blurred within.

Perhaps what appealed to me the most about Hounds of Love is how this is a genuinely thrilling film – it is an unpredictable and very dark film, and there are some moments that are so deeply disturbing, you recoil in horror, whereas other moments (particularly those whereby Vicki tries to escape) are so utterly thrilling, I forgot to breathe. I am almost entirely sure that for the last few moments of this film, my heart stopped, because it is such an extraordinarily made film, particularly because of how Young is able to play with the tone of this film – it goes from being a slow-burning, quiet and very disturbing one, to a truly exhilarating and exciting one in a matter of seconds. This was a highly unpredictable film, and even if the final moment did feel a bit too artificial, it was still a relief that it ended in that way. By the time this film ends, you are just as fatigued and battered and out-of-breath as Vicki is, and that is an extraordinary achievement.

Hounds of Love is a wonderful film. It was a great surprise, and I am glad I took a chance on it. It may seem standard and underwhelming, but it is the exact opposite – it is a thrilling character-driven drama with some truly nasty surprises throughout, and wonderful performances from a dedicated cast. This is a very small film, and I don’t expect it will be as widely seen as other bigger films, so I implore you to do one thing – if you want a well-made, complex thriller, then Hounds of Love is certainly the film for you. It is a humble crime film with a big heart, and I imagine, given the right circumstances, that Ben Young may have a very good career ahead of him of this film is anything to go by. It just needs to be seen, and it certainly deserves to be. It is an excellent film that was a huge surprise – trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

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