There’s something about genre fare from Australia that comes coated in an extra layer of discomfort. It’s newest export, the based on a true crime tale Hounds of Love dares the viewer to watch without turning away. First time feature director Ben Love pieced together a remarkable and savage thriller made all the more fascinating by the attention given to the psyche of its central players. Hounds of Love invites comparison to The Snowtown Murders and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer for based on true crime films which drive home the point that our real world monsters are scarier than any work of fiction.
Distraught at her parents pending divorce, high school student Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings) defies her mother and sneaks out in the middle of the night en route to a party. When she takes up an offer from a John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn (Emma Booth) to buy a little pick me up for the festivities, she finds herself instead at the mercy of a pair of sadistic captors. Chained to a bed in the dingy back bedroom of the couple’s home, the young girl finds herself subjected to sexual torment, physical abuse and mental torture.
Yet the young woman has a presence of mind to take in her surroundings and find cracks in the armor of her kidnappers’ relationship. John kills for the thrill of it and for the power it gives him over these helpless young girls. When he’s looming over their chained bodies he can forget, for a moment, how he’s bullied and ridiculed by the small time pimps and hustlers he owes money too. Evelyn kills because she sees these young girls as a threat to come between she and John. Their youth, their unspoiled beauty and their potential all serve to lure John away from her despite how hard and desperately Evelyn clings to them. These girls need to die, and they need to be disposed of before John can form an attachment to them aside from the time spent sexually assaulting them.
Vicky uses what she sees to come between the couple. By driving a wedge between them she hopes to stay alive long enough to find an escape. In the meantime, she has to endure a horrific ordeal. Hounds allows the viewer’s imagination to do the heavy lifting. Love will linger on the moments just before and after the couple assaults their victim of the moment rather than focus on the act itself. The aftermath and proof lay scattered around the house in the form of droplets of blood on a tile floor, household implements discarded with clumps of skin and hair still attached and dish towels sopped with blood left to clog and harden on the kitchen sink. The film conveys the physical and psychological trauma of the film without showing every graphic detail.
A recurring motif in Hounds focuses on planes passing over the suburban tenements while one of our central characters stares off as it fades from view. It’s a simple image, and one you’d write off as simple B-roll if Love did not return to it so frequently. It’s a quiet way to drive home the idea of escape and what it means to the three women at the center of the film. It’s obvious in Vicky’s case why she needs to escape. Her mother is a different story. We’re given no explanation for the reasons behind the dissolution of Vicky’s parent’s marriage.
Evelyn’s case is the most complex of the three. It’s obvious she’s a monster, and every bit as complicit as John for the horror and degradation inflicted on their victims. Yet there seems to be that tiniest of sparks in her that understands and regrets how much she has given up in order to be with him. She’s lost all contact with her young children. No matter how she tries to delude herself that she’ll have custody soon, she knows deep down that will never come to pass. She allows John to have his way sexually with the girls despite it killing her inside. She can’t measure up to the youth, the innocence or the beauty of these victims. Yet as much as she may want out, it’s a pipe dream.
Hounds of Love is a difficult, gut churning film. Anchored by a quartet of terrific performances and shot with a grainy, handheld style that give it a documentary feel, it’s the latest in a niche of true crime horror titles that are more brutal and nightmare inducing than the latest monster of the week film. It;s a long standing tradition of Boston Underground to offer films that challenge the audience to sit through and accept what they’re seeing on screen. Ben Love’s debut joins those proud ranks of the truly disturbing, best material of the fest. .