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Hounds of Love (Movie Review)

Hounds of Love (Movie Review)
05.12.2017by: Cody Hamman
9 10

PLOT: A serial killer couple keeps a young girl captive in their home. Knowing that it's only a matter of time before they'll murder her, the girl tries everything she can think of to escape.

REVIEW: When writer/director Ben Young was a kid growing up in Australia, his parents put a fear in him with stories of a real life serial killer couple that had been caught in Perth. Young tapped into that childhood fear while crafting his feature directorial debut HOUNDS OF LOVE, resulting in a stunningly impressive first-time feature.

Set in December of 1987, the story centers on Ashleigh Cummings as rebellious teenager Vicki Maloney, whose decision to sneak out in the night to go to a party leads her into the clutches of John White (Stephen Curry) and his wife Evelyn (Emma Booth). Like others before her, Vicki is chained to a bed in the White home, where the couple intends to rape and beat her for days before killing her and burying her in a nearby forest. 

I usually have an aversion to films directly based on true crimes, as they often feel like crass cash-ins that gave no consideration to the victims or their families. If HOUNDS was a cinematic telling of what went on with that real serial killer couple in 1980s Perth, it's likely I would have avoided it. But while the film does contain many facts lifted from that case, Young gets around the more distasteful aspects of bringing the deeds of actual serial killers to the screen by placing those facts inside a story that is fictional. John and Evelyn White are not the real killers that terrorized Perth, they are characters that Young and his actors built from the ground up.

Young and cinematographer Michael McDermott also brought this scenario to the screen in such a way that it never feels exploitative. The film never revels in the brutality that Vicki endures. It is made very clear just what sort of awful things are going on inside the White residence, but Young lets us fill in the blanks on our own. We'll hear screams coming from a darkened room, but we don't see the rape or the beatings. We know there are violent acts going on within a scene, but we are spared the sight of the impact... Unless that impact provides some kind of cathartic pay-off. The film is effectively disturbing and devastating without being off-putting. Something with this subject matter could be truly disgusting, but that's not the direction Young went with it.

Nor did he make his killers paper thin scumbags, as can often be the case. Every one of his lead characters comes across as a real human being with depth. John is a scumbag to be sure, a monster, but his relationship with Evelyn is a complicated one - he's a master manipulator who presents himself as being a good, caring guy aside from his homicidal urges and violent temper. He's had Evelyn wrapped around his finger since she was a teenager herself, he has complete control of her, but his control doesn't extend to other people in his life. Vicki isn't a squeaky clean innocent, she's a pot-smoking party girl who cheats at school, sneaks out of home, and has a very rocky relationship with her mother. She's a pain at first, but as we follow her through this nightmarish ordeal we quickly come to care for her and root for her, and we see who she is beneath the rebel exterior. 

And then there's the character I found to be the most interesting person in the film, Evelyn. She is a mother who has lost custody of the kids she had with a man other than John. The pain of that loss is obviously weighing on her at all times, even when she's gladly helping John abduct and brutalize his victims. She doesn't mind the rape and murder, but she does mind when John shows the captive girls too much attention. She gets jealous. This is a troubled, tormented woman who was fascinating to watch, and Booth brought her to life with an incredible performance. The acting in this film was great across the board, but Booth really stood out for me.

HOUNDS OF LOVE is a fantastic achievement for Young, the sort of debut that leaves you looking forward to seeing what else the filmmaker might have in store for you. From the writing and directing to the acting and cinematography, this film blew away my expectations and impressed me on every level. It's intense, it's heartbreaking, it's awe-inspiring.

Extra Tidbit: Gunpowder & Sky Distribution will be releasing HOUNDS OF LOVE in theatres and on VOD May 12th.

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